London, Im here. Where’s my bag?

London. Im here. My bag isn’t. Which is fine except for the odor of disuse coming from my armpits after the long haul across the world. (At this time I’d like to thank the inventor of noise cancelling headphones for eliminating the bludgeoned feeling often born of aircraft hummmmmmmmmmmmm). Emerging from the underground is a revalation at first, it could be in anywhere, not particularly London. What makes this unique beyond its landmarks?

Now sitting in Green Park, having walked a few blocks through the delightfully sheltered Berkeley Square. The Park is beginning it’s march into winter; through the long strip tease of Autumn. I shall visit tomorrow with running apparel and join the throngs. The English seem at first glance to run differently. There’s a knowing about them that seems to say with each step: not to worry, I’ll be home soon. The colors of Autumn make sense to me. They speak to my childhood memories and to the desire of my adult condition. These inner city parks that will soon permit the sun to the grass beneath, rot the leaves and canabalise themselves, are immensely peaceful to me; almost as much a forest. The peace doesn’t last as long, but its proximity to the edge of the urban is exciting and full of possibility. Like it feeds on the park to give it credit that urbanity alone cannot provide. Cities celebrate human achievements as they separate from nature; a disconnected engineering. But city parks justify the human city build and hint at the origins of us. But don’t be fooled, they are a hint only and can never fully balance humanity in the city scape. They are a trick, albeit a delightful one.

Without a local phone, I’m somewhat bound to my apartment today waiting for the airline to email with good news. I’m remembering last night at the Royal Albert Hall. Max Richter and his ensemble played ‘Re-Composed – Vivaldi’s 4 seasons’. Max is an enigma that has found a wonderful crack between classical and modern that has filled the Albert Hall with mostly the young (guessing 20s and 30s). With an unassuming character and a music that album by album is quite repetitive and without chaos, Richter has spoken to the world with a voice of simplicity and melancholy but with just enough hope be interesting.

He is a perfect storm; a storm where a new voice was needed, old instruments were needed, film -like qualities of soundscape are accepted as ‘classical’ by a new, hip generation of students, and a subtlety of technological sound to appeal to a generation with Dr. Dre on their heads. His music is a tomato concentrate; boiling down the access, eliminating the frill, but maintaing just enough for it to have a unique dignity. Simplicity as we understand it from the hands of Pärt, Glass or Yann Tiersen. They get the modern riff, even phrasing and repartition, but they have gone one step further towards a minimalism that allows us to hear, not music, but time. A time that feels with every moment. Thats rare in an age of fluff. Last night the thousands of people who filled the Royal Albert Hall felt time together. And we breathed unknowingly together. Our inner clocks slowed a little, giving us a peace that no city can take away. Not even the Saturday night of post-summer London.

Now, where’s my bag?

Performing Tim Passes

Almost immediately after the performance of Tim Passes on June 12, I checked my watch: I couldn’t believe it went by so fast. The fastest hour of my life. Remarks flowed in that another hour could easily have been enjoyed. A repeat? or a development? Either way, I want to feel that hour again…and again. Often, as a mentor, tutor or such, I talk to student about the landscape of the set, the song, the verse, the phrase, the line, the word and the breath. People will hang onto the most inane of things if you deliver it well, with intent, and with the authority of a map; you know where you’re going and no one is going to get hurt.

I spent much time thinking on the set order for Tim Passes as the 8 poems were not given to me chronologically, alphabetically, or in any other discernible state or theme, other than Tim’s joy and suffering. I organised them so as to introduce Tim with a reference to his end, then celebrate his inner child, his children, his genitalia, his inevitable end and the family that needed consoling after the fact. It was this final point which had the most significant weight. This work was about, and for a family; a family that I believe had engaged in little ceremony for Tim’s passing over 20 years ago and had yet to celebrate him. Not that I’m claiming to have any authority on the passing rights of a man through the families eyes, but I don’t imagine Tim ever had a party as big as this one.

I learned a great deal about poetry, music and respect during this process. Tim’s work was of a unique position; closer to death than any of us care to be and vividly aware of its slow grip and of the nearest peoples reactions to it. I can’t say that I’ve felt that. I had a ripping hangover once and can’t remember the booze I drank to get it – that’s as close as I get. Lame. I can imagine though as life grinds down around you, that whatever words you commit will ultimately define your position. They will become your expression after you part. Tim chose his words well. Honest and brutal. The music needed to fit the same shaped hole he made; the hole his family recognised as ‘Tim’. During the lead up, there was much press about the event. One such article in a weekend magazine had a quote from Tim’s brother David about my composition of Tim’s work. Referring to Tim’s “right-angled turns and about-faces” swerving from “truculence to tenderness”, David went on to say, “Dean must preserve that inadvertent ambiguity”. David had announced this expectation via print media and I shit myself. It was the word “must” that buried in the most. I must interpret the words in accordance with the Tim-shaped-hole that I was still learning to appreciate only hours before the show.

I spoke on an earlier day about the study and use of vowels and consonants when defining the parameters of the music. But beyond that is the performance, the delivery of another mans ideas who can no longer tell you if you got it right, nearly right, or missed completely. But, as I’m sure any musician can empathise, when performing someone else’s work, a line delivered poorly has you imagining the originator in the front row, tongue out, fingers up, or turning their back on you as you over-sing the next few lines to attempt recompense, ultimately making it even worse. I learned a lot about performing with an orchestra too. With a band, when you trip, you can turn to the band, raise your eyebrows (literally or metaphorically) and the band can react to this and adjust. An orchestra is like the Titanic approaching a u-turn at 80 knots; if you trip, there’s fuck all you can do accept find your own way to make what you just did sound like you meant it.

The media were kind. The Age called it the ‘highlight of the opening weekend’. Given the other acts on that weekend, I’ll take that. My favourite moments? Being a piece of bread in a stage-light toaster in Song for the Adequate Person and listening to the guy who tried and failed to wait until the music stopped before clapping (he was so keen!). Keeping focus whilst singing about a floating cock in a bathtub. The dynamic smash of the Professor of History Greets His Students, conducting the Fragment of a Requiem for Timothy Hamilton Walsh and who doesn’t like a 5 minute standing ovation. I wonder now what Tim would have thought at the premiere. His remaining friends and family seemed chuffed, but would they say that with Tim standing by?

 

Tim_Passes_106 Tim_Passes_110b Tim_Passes_122b Tim_Passes_028b

6am.

It’s 6am and Im awake. That in itself is not unusual; usually the dog and I are considering our way towards a run near this time. A few kilometers to smash the day into place. But at this 6am I’m still up to my neck in Doona bearing sonic witness to the rain as it strikes the windows sideways; blown in over the mountain at incredible speed.

Ordinarily, I would simply return to a sneaky sleep, knowing that rain had closed the running idea, but this morning the sound is so violent at the window that I’m still awake and sleep can’t beat noise. Not this much noise. I am, by virtue of being awake, now able to fully engage in today’s inevitable conversations that will begin with “How about that rain this morning? Wasn’t it amazing?”. Yes, I will say. Can say, as I am held awake to know its ferocity. 
Trying to punch through the clouds is the rising sun that at this stage has not yet the firepower to make it through. So a glow seeps into the room; a glow from a far off, indirect place. Like a great distant fluorescent globe, creating an indistinguishable quality like peripheral vision; you almost need to look next to a thing to see the thing at all. The light seems to emanate softy from things rather than upon things. A glow from the walls themselves, that wait for the sun to take mantel; to shoulder through the clouds. 
And the clouds know it. Soon enough, at 6.40, the rain eases, it’s windy transport gone away allowing the days rightful heir, the sun, to take up and begin. 
Now I could sneak another quick sleep, but light from technology has penetrated my eyes and begun my journey towards it. And I will keep moving towards it all day until I realize at the days end that the chase was a fruitless attempt to catch anything at all except a vehicle for my experiences of the work of the natural world. Which is after all, how it started. 

Nothing like a deadline.

Extraordinary how the human brain works. All day we observe, absorb, collect, re-tell, confirm and update about the world around us. Those who write books, journals and such are the ones who understand the need for commonality and uniformity in human thinking. The rest of us lift those people to an elevated human position because they ‘speak, collect and collate’ for the greater human condition. The rest of us are self oriented collectors and curators of obscure information and bias. We don’t collect for the greater population, because we all harbour the idea to some degree that we are each unique thinkers and must therefor collate and process information differently to everybody else.

My mind requires a different food from yours even thought we may observe and remark on the same object, incident or idea. In doing this, we can become quite narrow in our want to collect ideas that are strange, or at least look like someone else’s stuff. And when we get busy, we can focus on the job at hand (especially if its someone else’s job) and our information scoop can get put away. Garaged for an available time. It can be easy to think you’re shut down sometimes.

But the information already collected sits there. Waiting. It must do. Where else can it go? I’ve often thought that if I lost a leg, would I lose thoughts, memories and ideas that have been stored in the cells there, waiting for the perfect day to retrieve them? Or perhaps waiting for the right smell to trigger their release? Like the smell of fresh baking brings my grandmothers face to mind. All because of one day, painting on a ladder near her kitchen window. But there; I didn’t need that smell to recall her memory then did I? Hmmm. I shall consider this further.

But when a deadline is presented, confirmed and paid for, there can be no greater trigger of style, genre, speed, colour, or mood. A pressing end to a project opens flood gates to collections that were until that time unawares to even you. (What else lurks within unawares?) I have a recording this weekend of music for a film. I’ve been sweating on it all week; arrangements, schedules, mood matching the images and such. But even now as I am still missing connecting fragments of music, the deadline has given me strength to stop writing the music…and write this! How is this possible, when last week I could barely string a sentence together. I was, perhaps hung over, but I’m sure my point is made.

When there is a reason to create, we create.

My best barometer for this need (without a 3rd party deadline), is to look at my record collection. If nothing inspires me to listen to it, take it from the shelf and drop the needle, no familiar sound wants to spark old memories, I know the only sound I can hear is the one that I have to write. Now! My mind needs a new music that is a response to all the listening that came before it. And it can only be written by me.

Poems to Lyrics.

It’s been said before that poems and song lyrics are strange bed fellows: One reluctant to adapt regular pulse and predictable rhythm, the other limited by rhyme, heartbreak and guitars. But it IS possible to build a relationship. Here’s a way to squeeze poetry into song. 


Forget the end of the poetic line.  Don’t look for a conventional rhyme or accent at the end of each line as is common in song lyrics; look instead for other rhymes or accents that fall within the lines. Sometimes you get two within one line. Use them and slow the verse down. Or sometimes the rhyme occurs across two lines but fall in the middle of each. That’s good. 

Musical phrase can allow for this, in fact it can stitch phrases together that would be otherwise boring or unsteady in the hands of the inexperienced performer. 

In both of these, rhythm is king. It will rule them all and melody will only seek to adorn the rhythmic phrase. Unsupported by this, melody will die alone. Unrequited. 

Death + Poetry = Orchestra?

So I’m writing a new piece of music. A big piece of music. I’ve written big pieces before but this one seems heavier, holding more responsibility; The responsibility of other people’s hearts and wallets.

The work hangs upon the text of another man. A deceased man. A man that no longer has the opportunity to defend his text against my music, my impulses that may in fact be quite contradictory to his. The work involves an orchestra. Yes, an orchestra. That means there are many people involved in these impulses. Each impulse is given to a different player. Together they make a whole and attempt to sum up what his simple words probably said better in the first place. That forces to me to constantly retread the notes of the score and ask “Is this an advance?”. 
But charged with the task of composing this work, I have accepted this constant question and moved forwards, sure in the knowledge that I have much to do, lest I be steam-rolled by a Mack truck sized impulse of a deceased mans design. Perhaps that would be the best outcome; Allow him the right to rebuttal in his death by beating me with immortality. I can’t trump him on that. A mere mortal, I must live until I’ve earned the right to be vainglorious in death. As a musician you’ll always be remembered by your last gig. Is that the same with ideas? Always remembered by the last thing you tried to defend or refuse? And does dying drunk allow you some slack, taking your penultimate argument as your last whilst the calamitous death slips below the judge? No matter, I digress. 
The deceased mans words (his name is Tim, lets call him Tim), cover much ground. He has views, opinions, ideas. Some of them are rude, others genius. Tim was an average fellow. I say average because he had a wife, kids, house in the suburbs, drove a car, got cancer. No royal blood, no coliseum named after him. What makes this collection of words so intriguing is that he wrote much of it in full awareness of his proximity to death. He watched it approach; writing much about its colour as it shadowed him. That makes me curious as his perspective on things is not one I have the education to match or manipulate without risking falsification. 
For a while I wondered if I were writing a requiem. A great mass to repose the soul of Tim. But not all the text falls into line with the traditional idea of a requiem. (Would a piece about your dick floating in the bath be appropriate for a requiem?). However I did find an instrumental piece emerging. I erk at this as I don’t want to say “written in response to the text” because that calls up insipid memories of instruments coerced into imitating bugs and traffic and cosmic beams of love; but, I suppose, it was written after reading the words and ruminating on the scale of the concert, so with an erk and a deep breath of resignation I say “I have written a fragment of a requiem for Timothy Hamilton Walsh in response to his words and in honour of his life”. Perhaps the whole work will be held under the light of a requiem, whatever the modern manifestation is. How many people get requiems written nowadays? 
I was approached a couple years ago to begin this process; after 20 years of Tim’s passing. Initially I had to deliver 5 minutes of music from 2 poems by Tim for his brothers birthday party. The commissioner said that this musical presentation was, as far as he knew, the only surprise for the event and given the nature of it, it could be a outstanding success, or the brother may run screaming from the room. Either way, it would be memorable. With Tim’s sons, Tim’s widow and now Tim’s unsuspecting brother standing 15 feet in front of me in the quietening room, I hoped I had interpreted the poems appropriately, otherwise an offence here could make the news.

Breathe in. Sing. 5 minutes later, smiles. Yes!

I liked the poems. I liked them a lot. I wanted more. More poems, more music and more of Tim. My plans of grandeur came to fruit with the aid of orchestral friends who understood my excitement. I had spend the years preceding this working to understand how a string section can play popular song grooves. So I was armed with new ideas and an enthusiasm that multiplied like a germ.

I think Tim would approve of this new cloak. But questions still spin behind my ears; would he have preferred his words stuck to a punk band, a polka band, a pipe band, a one man band? Who can say. Only Tim’s words to questions long since asked and answered are the guide to how ‘right’ it will be.
However, I suspect the punk band would serve the dick in the bathtub poem better then an orchestra could.

The work is called ‘Tim Passes’ and will premiere at Dark Mofo in Hobart this June.

An open letter to the Editor

Dear Editor.

Your job is an important one. Your knowledge of how the greater machinations of the world turn is unparalleled. You see the impact of things before they occur. See the consequence of irresponsible flirtings and warmongering before they strike the people unawares, creating discourse and unrest. And, invariably, low sales. Your perception of my talent and outpourings is a wonder to me. You see an end before it has even occurred to me that I have begun.

However, Mr Editor, your job is, as its title suggests, an editor. An editor of work. Which by its nature means that you are not at the beginning of the process, but come much later on. I’m sorry Mr Editor, but you are, sadly, not a creator. Which given the depth and breadth of your insight into humanity itself and its foibles, is remarkable to me, but nonetheless, a truth. And in saying so, may I politely ask you Mr Editor that during my moments of creation, during my intimate and vulnerable states of imbalance as I assess my cosmos and open my heart and fabric to it, and as I lay myself at the foot of a mountain that I have no map for but will blind myself in the blizzard of assent, I ask you, Mr Editor, will you kindly, please, fuck off.

As I fill my (metaphorical) car with fuel, may you not be there to tell me that my destination is inappropriate, particularly when I have set out with no clear destination to begin (and I know that the very idea of this is, to you, intolerable). As I raise my brush to the canvas, latent with movement and verve, tell me not that I would be better to begin later or with another colour. As I open the case to my instrument, your warning that there is not enough time to tune up, let alone write a masterpiece is not welcomed or warranted. So please Mr Editor, will you kindly, please, fuck off.

At this time Mr Editor, our delusions of grandeur and want for my safety are not warranted, even though I value your careful spirit in the face of reputation. But the very nature of creation must be unbound, unhinged and not tied to your ideas of collection, rudiments or appropriateness.
You are the eraser and I am the pencil.
You may even be the fuel, but I am most certainly the match (in which case I empathise).
But your job comes after mine. Your job is to help express what I have begun to the ears and eyes of those who are not in my head. I do, however, appreciate your understanding above all others to know what it is like in here.

And so Mr Editor, please assume your correct place in my outpourings. Even whilst writing this, you have placed markers, road signs and a phrase book at my feet in order to help the piece, defend yourself and maintain your own reputation as well as mine. But until I rest my (metaphorical) pencil, still the brush, or close my case and silence the music, please, Mr Editor, kindly, fuck off.

Vault series: A songs worth

One from the vault:

After the recording of my early album In Time, I had a creative explosion. This often happens when you work your ears off on one thing, then to find that this time of rigor and focus culminates in a new understanding of self/music/money/divorce or something else quite useful. Perhaps this revelation is the sole purpose for this rigor. 

Anyway, after In Time a new song burst out. It came too late to be included on the In Time album and was therefor first in line for whatever came next. 
In fact the next thing was a new album recorded just 18 months later in Sweden. This album is yet to see the light of day. But more on that another day. 

The new song did indeed become the first song we recorded upon arrival in Sweden; and it worked wonderfully; Vintage drums, pickled fish, tubes and valves for days and few distractions apart from the creation itself. It was so good in fact, that when the next project was underway, a recording with string ensemble (Arco Set), this song was duly modified to accept a string backing making it a perfect partner to this project.  It’s still one of my proudest moments. And its all recorded to tape. 

It begins with a chorus, has two more of them, only one verse, a bridge and is done in under 3 minutes. 
It’s called Wayward song. 

https://itunes.apple.com/au/album/wayward-song/id440947671?i=440947689

Enjoy