This has definitely been quite the week of contrasts – some losses marked, some incredible gains, some new potential futures, a few frustrations, and even some getting wiser. But it also feels like it’s just flown by. So this is very much “in no particular order”…
The good bits
Let’s start with an upside. I had a wonderful day at the Tate Modern – meeting an old guitarist/techarch friend for coffee and then wandering round everything. I heard good things about two of the exhibitions, but trying to buy tickets was a bit painful and so I ended up just signing up for membership. Criticisms of poor UX that led to this situation aside, it was great just being able to show a barcode and amble in to whatever I felt like. Cezanne was a bit overwhelming, and very full of people much older than me, but that was a bit of a “whatevs” compared two other exhibitions I got to see.
Magdalena Abakanowicz produced these incredible billowing organic textile pieces on a truly epic scale. I just stood being with them for ages, soaking them in. One of the centrepieces of any previous Tate visit was always the Rothko room, which I’d normally just settle into for well over half an hour – writing in a notebook in the company of their hugeness. The Rothkos are out on loan at the moment, which I was gutted about, but this nearly made up for it.
The other thing about her work was the smell. They were all made of reclaimed rope, so there was this incredible seaside/gym rich dusty oily aroma around everything. It’s not often you go to see an exhibition and spend a lot of time just breathing in next to the pieces.
Maria Bartuszová produced some amazing tangible sculptures too, using all sorts of media – but often plaster cast in amazing soft analogue forms using distorted rubber sheets.
The pieces below were particularly delightful – they were sculptures designed specifically to be enjoyed by people who couldn’t see, so it was all about feel and exploration:
Of course there was a great irony that these days they are locked away in a glass case where we can’t touch them – but you got to see the joy they produced in others when they were still able to be used:
However, while I was sitting in the members’ bar of the Tate Modern, inspiration finally struck on another front.
More leaving gifts!
The kind people of DIT DDaT had also given me Quite A Large Amazon Voucher as part of my leaving present, which was (again) very generous and thoughtful. But I was slightly stuck to know what to do with it. I’m a former catholic after all, and I’ve been very well trained that rituals matter. I couldn’t just quietly spend the voucher on a few useful cables that would get mixed up with all the others – it needed to be on something notable and distinctive I’d remember, and remember them with it. But I’m also a bit of a shopaholic – there’s a lot of stuff I’ve already just got for myself (even if I may not have been entirely candid with Vicky about how much it cost). So, what to get the man who has everything?
And in the bar, staring out at the Thames and imagining the sounds of the wind and the rain, I remembered.
I’ve always had an element of ‘found sound’ and ambient texture in all my music. Back when Vicky and I were creating our own tracks in the 90s, I’d adamantly refuse to use any presets – and any samples from libraries/CDs couldn’t be used “straight”. I’d have to create, capture or distort as much of my stuff as possible.
Even today, I’ve often got the “voice memos” app sitting ready to go, for interesting ambiences or textures. That escalator that makes a funny noise, the particular way two lift chimes work together. It’s nicely inconspicuous to have your phone in hour hand, even if the app then compresses the audio and makes it harder to recover the fine details.
These types of field recording are buried in the works of Leafcutter John, Haiku Salut, and so many more. I have a few running under some of my tracks – but they’ve always been a little bit crap – so I’ve always been after a proper field recording setup. But I know it’s frivolous. I’ve therefor never been able to justify the thing I wanted, and knew I’d be slightly disappointed with the thing I could financially justify.
But no longer. Because ‘added frivolous’ is exactly the point.
Thank you DIT DDaT folks, for enabling me to get my Zoom H5n at last!
Getting deeper into piano
New ways of perceiving also cropped up in the piano this week. I had an odd piano lesson on Saturday, where – for once – I didn’t actually play a single note. Seb helped me understand the shape of a Schubert Impromptu – because I was finding it impossible to make any tangible progress through the vast sea of twiddly notes. He pointed out, really usefully, that I was looking at the wrong hand to understand the structure. I think I’ll start making a lot more progress on this very quickly as a result.
I’d got a bit dispirited by progress on Debussy’s ‘Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum’ which I linked to on Spotify the other week. It’s quite incredible that I’ve come far enough that I can kinda-play it end to end within six weeks of my first focused attempt at learning it. But with that comes new frustrations – that there’s still a lot of embedding it properly to be done, which previously would have happened while I was chiselling away at it in small chunks over potentially two terms. So there’s a new type of trajectory in my practice, as the inital learning gets easier – but other bits are exposed as a result. All progress, but still.
The final thing we did a bit of work on was one of my old Debussy favourites – “Sarabande”. This piece is almost the bedrock of Art of Noise’s amazing “The Seduction of Claude Debussy” and I’ve known 80% of it for ages – but not been good enough to get through the rest of it until now. But there’s a really horrible section near the end with a huge load of descending chords where I couldn’t see any fingering that worked. In the second half of the second bar below I couldn’t see any decent way to make it legato across all three chords of the phrase.
That turns out to be because there isn’t one. You’ve just got to make the best of it, and try not to give up and play three staccato chords. But the really interesting thing is that – after the lesson – I noticed there are also some really big clues in the dynamic and phrasing markings on how to pull it off. You’ll see I’ve now circled the staccato marking on some of the chords. They buy you a bit of time and really separate the phrases. And look at the hairpins in bars two and three: the third chord at the end of each bar is the quietest – so that’s the one to sacrifice. Similarly in the last bar, you can see it’s two small sighs – and that’s your clue about how to handle where to move and where to be legato. The phrase markings in that bar echo this too. So I now have a much better sense of how to interpret the pianistic markings to avoid RSI – which can only be a good thing.
It turned out the clues were out there all along. And now I’m cracking on rather wonderfully.
You can miss that you’re relaxing
One of the odd contradictions about the Tate, and the piano time, and the field recording is that they were almost too effective as a break from work. I ended up in such a flow state – being in the moment and totally absorbed – that it felt like I didn’t do much of note. Unlike a clear project or task where you can say “I made that happen”, this is almost the opposite. You emerge feeling like you’ve not achieved anything. Where was The Leisure? Instead you were just ‘being’.
Which is kind of the point.
Meanwhile, your subconscious definitely knows you’re relaxing and processing things. It’s busy moving on, even if the conscious bit of you hasn’t spotted. This can unexpectedly lead to new ‘old unresolved things’ expanding into the new mental space you’ve created. So, in the immediate moment, it actually feels like you’ve even taken a step backwards because you’ve got a sudden new worry that’s come from nowhere. It’s only with reflection you can see that the stillness, and the emotional mining, are actually making really good progress.
I also finally managed my 50th Parkrun on Saturday. I really like parkrun as a format – a non-competitive way of using others to set a pace you might not quite have chosen for yourself on your own. But 9am? As a friend once said, “it’s a bit blimmin early”. It takes real willpower to not have a second cup of tea and settle into the crossword in bed. And then there was the stupid ankle injury that wrote off the second half of last year. But anyway, it happened…
So that was the upside. But there were a few rubbish bits last week.
The biggest was the funeral of my godfather Hedley, who died from a particularly grim form of cancer. He was the first person I was ever aware of who talked about mental health, and it had been a struggle for a few big periods of his life. But he accomplished so much – as a bass player, a chemist, a gardener, and a parent. He was my dad’s friend since primary school, and he’ll be sorely missed by all our family.
I also had to take Daisy back to university – which is a mixed experience. The house feels emptier without her, and she’s off facing a new term of challenges, so we are a little apprehensive. And carrying her heavy bags up all those flights of stairs was really bloody hard work. But also, there’s a little more space to think. Even if I feel slighlty guilty about that.
As a result, I spent a LOT of time in the car between London and East Anglia last week. And I had a long-booked day trip with Vicky too.
This all coincided quite poorly with onboarding into the new job – as I was suddenly nowhere near the Big Computer during working hours, at precisely all the times I had a very gated sequence of tasks to undergo. I’d fill in a form, dash out of the door, and get to my destination only to find that this had unlocked a request for another new bit of paperwork or evidence or contact information I had to look up that evening. Each individual step was hugely tedious and rather mundane – but with a lot riding on it. It was a hell of a lot like certain aspects of being back at work, and definitely not helping with the relaxation.
As a result, I currently suspect that I won’t be starting at GDS on the 6th, but wonder if that might be a good thing.
- I’ve got a chat with another potential coaching client, which could be very interesting as a complement to the GDS work
- I’m trying to sort out someone to help them do more of the deep work on the strategy they need, as I won’t have time to do more than the highest level principles, so have a few chats with people to see if they’re interested
- Tannhäuser at the Royal Opera House on Wednesday evening
- Meryl Pugh’s “Feral Borough” book launch at the Wanstead Tap on Thursday evening
- Going to see a friend who’s recovering from an eye operation, and maybe will be in a fit state to enjoy a glass or two of something comforting
- Planning to continue to stay off Twitter and LinkedIn as much as possible – deleting the apps off my phone has been very good for my wellbeing. There have been a few interesting debates I’ve seen on the few moments I’ve dropped in, and I’m very glad I managed to draw breath and walk away.
- A lot more music, hopefully. And definitely some being still.