Thursday, 25 May 2006

Global Quickening

To experience a physical sense of the passing of time, watch a sunrise, closely.

Light, Time, Matter & Space reveal their intimate choreography.

Now available in convenient durations.

Sunday, 23 April 2006

Tuesday, 4 April 2006

Seeing and Hearing Double

'the night rider' - homage to Frances-Marie Uitti by Paul Griffiths

Hands tight on the reins, eyes steady forward,
astride her living wooden horse, she tears ahead.
There are others, at the side,
holding searchlights to catch her as she goes.
Iannis Xenakis sees her spectacular dexterity.
John Cage smiles at her humour.
Giacinto Scelsi welcomes her gravity and intensity.
Jonathan Harvey hails her wild imagination.
Gyorgy Kurtag observes her true power.
Now this.
She looks neither to right nor to left.
Hands tight, eyes steady, astride, she tears on.

As part of a fantastic series of concerts programmed by Rolf Hind and the society for the promotion of new music (spnm), I went to see Frances-Marie Uitti, renowned avant-garde cellist and inventor of the polyphonic two-bow cello technique.

To her great credit I heard she had spent considerable time working with four of the UK's best up-and-coming composers on a programme of their new two-bow works, written especially for the event.

I was so surprised at the list of composers who had written pieces for her and dedicated them to her, I had to checkout what all the fuss was about. In the end perhaps after such high expectations I was a little disappointed not to find her playing more inspired, but I enjoyed immensely the fizzy masturbation of Xenakis's Kottos, the dogged hypnotic constancy of Scelsi's Ygghur, and a beautiful miniature from Kurtag.

Saturday, 18 March 2006

How To See - A Beginner's Guide

Josef Albers - 'Variant' (1948-52)

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy - 'A 19' (1927 - detail)

Josef Albers was one of the inspirational teachers at Black Mountain College (see below), tutor to Robert Rauschenberg whose series of 'White Paintings in part inspired John Cage to think about silence and write 4'33", so I just had to see this exhibition of his work along with Moholy-Nagy.

To change something or at least your experience of something, you don't have to change the thing itself, simply change the things next to it, or what is experienced before, or after it, or indeed at the same time.

Albers illustrated and explored this idea in his monumental work 'Interaction of Colour' (1963), a comprehensive study of the effects of combinations of colours on eachother - ground-breaking and important and relevent to all creative disciplines!

I didn't expect to be blown away by Moholy-Nagy's abstract shapes and colours, but I was! How do my eyes and brain make sense of what I am looking at. Is that a red rectangle on top of a black one, or a red shape beside a brown shape beside a black shape - aha so that's how my mind is working!

Life is full of illusions!

Saturday, 11 March 2006

Black Mountain College

Fascinating exhibition at the Kettles Yard Gallery Cambridge about Black Mountain College (BMC), where the teachers and students formed a collective of composers, artists, poets, and craftspeople, who all shared the work at the college, grew their own vegetables, and cross-fertilised their ideas.

Concerts of pieces composed and developed at BMC were performed. John Cage's 45' for speaker was read by composer Christopher Fox, whilst 31'57.964" for prepared piano and 26'1.1499" for cello were both performed at the same time, but independently.

Cage makes some provocative assertions - There is no such thing as absolute silence - All noise is music - All music is theatre - Theatre is when there are simultaneous audible and visible events. This feels liberating and explodes the boundaries of what I thought of as 'music-theatre'!

62 mesostics Re Merce Cunningham was performed by Phil Minton, an extraordinary vocal gymnast. For 25minutes I thought he was possessed by the devil.

Friday, 10 March 2006

From Perfect To Human

('The Perfect Human')

('The Imperfect Human')

Seeking late night stimulation I watch Lars Von Trier's genius film 'The 5 Obstructions' for the 2nd time. In it he forces his old teacher Jorgen Leth to remake 5 times his previous 1967 masterpiece 'The Perfect Human', each time with a different set of obstructions.

Limitations inspire creativity, and sure enough when Leth is asked to remake the film with no restrictions, it proves his hardest test and for a time he is lost and cannot begin.

Von Trier admits he wanted Leth to fail, to be human, not perfect, his idea being to move from Leth's 'perfect' original film to Leth's human failings during the course of the film.

"True love comes not from finding a perfect person, but through learning to see an imperfect person perfectly." (Anonymous)

Thursday, 9 March 2006


I find myself sitting in a room in Queens' College Cambridge, almost 20 years after I first sat there in 1986. It's as if I've been off on an adventure, but now I'm back home in my simple student room after half a lifetime of experiences.

It feels like a journey straight out of Sebald's groundbreaking book 'Rings of Saturn', the story of his walk down the Suffolk coast from Lowestoft to Southwold, in which he regularly stops to reflect on history, philosophy, biology, music and more.

At one point he sits on a bench to eat a sandwich, and looking out to sea, muses on the history and decline of the European herring industry, and the folly of war. Some 87 pages later we're back on the bench after a wonderful imaginary adventure.

When I wander into the packed college bar for a beer, the students look at me like a man from another planet.

Tuesday, 7 March 2006

Plums unknowingly find artistic purpose

During an Opera Writing Workshop at Snape Maltings, I sieze the opportunity to air my plums (both literally and metaphorically).

Plums are essentially like people, just skin, flesh and seeds, programmed primarily simply to survive and reproduce.

Thursday, 2 March 2006

The Importance of Seasoning

Aldeburgh beach (covered in rock salt)

It's so important to make sure your life has enough spice and seasoning.

After much effort, I make winter return.

Wednesday, 1 March 2006

Debussy made more musical

"Music is the silence between the notes." - (Claude Debussy)

I checked a recording of 'Clair de Lune' and there are no complete silences. Each note hasn't completely faded and quiet resonances always continue beyond the point the next note is played.

The most silent parts of 'Clair de Lune'

Saturday, 25 February 2006

Inevitable Impossibilities

Today someone told me the 'true' story of how they accidentally killed a robin which flew under their foot as they were walking in London, and it was squashed flat by their boot! I joked about how the probability of this happening was near zero, that it falls into the category of 'impossible', but it happened.

This reminds me of some of artist Keith Tyson’s playful works which explore the intuitive difficulties encountered when thinking about the worlds of chance, probability, fate and freewill. Some of his very unlikely ('impossible') exhibits point to the fact that every moment involves a completely unique arrangement of atoms in space and time (leaving Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle aside) with a probability of occurrence of near zero, and yet they're happening all the time. A nice idea perhaps to compile a list of both true and made up 'impossible' events.

Monday, 13 February 2006

Miniature Masterpieces

I heard Webern's Six Bagatelles for the first time today, extraordinary!

Concentrated, delicate, precise, intense and full of energy.

Simultaneously alien and natural.

The very epitome of finding beauty in the detail.

My lesson - even small, short, or simple creations can be powerful and beautiful.

Webern's Six Bagatelles distilled

Friday, 10 February 2006

In the footsteps of Queneau

'Opening the Cage' - 14 variations on 14 words

I have to say poetry and that is nothing and I am saying it
I am and I have poetry to say and that is nothing saying it
I am nothing and I have poetry to say and that is saying it
I that am saying poetry have nothing and it is I and to say
And I say that I am to have poetry and saying it is nothing
I am poetry and nothing and saying it is to say that I have
To have nothing is poetry and I am saying that and I say it
Poetry is saying I have nothing and I am to say that and it
Saying nothing I am poetry and I have to say that and it is
It is and I am and I have poetry saying say that to nothing
It is saying poetry to nothing and I say I have and am that
Poetry is saying I have it and I am nothing and to say that
And that poetry is nothing I am saying and I have to say it
Saying poetry is nothing and to that I say I am and have it

Edwin Morgan

In order to find gold, an artist sometimes needs to dig at the end of a rainbow.

I discovered this provocative, playful poem whilst checking the partial Cage quote used as a subtitle to my blog (the full quote reads 'I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry as I needed it.')

Whilst the poem's not to do with different styles of expression, it does remind me of Raymond Queneau's 99 brilliant variations on telling a simple story (Exercices de style - 1947).

Morgan selects 14 from millions of possible word orders! Each variation of these words triggers different thoughts, about being, having, saying, poetry, nothing and more.

Look. There are infinite colours.

Monday, 30 January 2006


Grey skies in Aldeburgh, no wind, no movement, nothing. Seeing but not feeling grey, I go in search of other colours and call a friend to check the world hasn't ended. "I want to cut the sky with a knife and make it bleed" I say. "That's poetry" she says.

In the spirit of Rauschenberg's 'White Paintings', perhaps I just need to open my eyes, to look a little more closely at this grey canvas, and it will reveal glorious, infinite variations to me.

I imagine myself after a very serious but non-fatal car accident and feel much better. This may inspire an uplifting new section on my website.

Saturday, 14 January 2006


Elliott Carter decomposing

Elliott Carter composing

I for one would have happily turned up simply to applaud any 97 year old who could make it onto the Barbican stage. Elliott Carter the composer who freed music from bars, was however so much more than just a very old man, full of life, insight, humour and mischief.

In a film about his life, Carter mentions liking Proust. At lunch at St.John, I order 6 madelaines, and offer one (still warm) to EC, which he accepts with openness and curiosity.
In the same film, John Cage playfully comments that 'Any idea is better out of the head than in the head'. Ouch that resonates, he's spot on! I must start realising the ideas swarming around in my head or I'll explode!

Carter says that he always wants to do something he has never done before with each piece of work. He loves the excitement of trying something new, where he doesn't know how it might turn out, fearless old bugger!

Apparently, on trying to put him up in a 5 star hotel right next to the Barbican, Carter objected, saying he'd just read about the hippest place in London, a new hotel called 'The Trafalgar' and that he wanted to try it. So he did! What appetite!