I hope Panasonic will forgive me for borrowing their soundbite.
This post is me exploring what the Small Symphonies project is all about. It’s not meant to be definitive and it’s as much about me getting my head straight as trying to explain.
Another soundbite – ‘never explain, never apologise’ – would suggest I shouldn’t be doing this anyway. So, my explanation of this explanation is based on Steve Lawson’s idea of sharing the creation process with your audience.
Putting it simply I want to do the best I can whether it’s guitar playing, writing words, writing music or singing. In other parts of my life I’m a craftsman and designer. I believe in craftsmanship.
It’s very rare that I accept the first idea or first version. I reshape and refine. I’m wary of the simplistic but equally uneasy with over complexity. I like ideas to cross reference to each other.
I am not that struck on originality. I think the best work is always respectful to precedence, has provenance, has pedigree. The Wasteland is compelling because of its allusions and references to other works, drawing all the strands of a dysfunctional civilisation together. Star Wars (the first film only – alright, the second as well – after all Richard Marquand is a Cardiff boy) is brilliantly witty because of its allusion to classics like The Dambusters and Ben Hur.
(The para above may be incongruent with what follows. Tough.)
I’m not measuring myself against anyone else but I am looking for continuous improvement – by my standards. Some phrases I can’t play right now – but I will be able to at some point in the future.
No piece of work can ever be said to be completely finished. No piece of work is ever a lost cause. For me it is completely acceptable to dismantle and reconstruct something that I created thirty years ago. Stranger is an an example of this.
Do I value spontaneity? Yes. In performance I tend to fly by the seat of my pants. I’m in a state of heightened consciousness – the ‘zone’ – things become possible that weren’t before. For me performance is the crucible. I try to maintain the level of craftsmanship that I’ve already put into the song and add to it. This is in part how the songs change over the years. Does it always work? No, it doesn’t.
Do I seem to be taking myself a little bit seriously? Yes. Do I have a sense of humour? No. FASOH.
Yet another soundbite – ‘situation,situation,situation’. This concept underlies good drama. You’ve got to put your characters into a situation that makes them do and say things. There’s an environmental or external stimulus.
Some artists stand out because they are pioneers – they’re doing it first. They’re (perhaps) responding to an environmental stimulus. Art is part of the process by which they interpret the changing environment and adapt to it – thereby helping everybody else to adapt. Examples:- sex, the Vietnam War, changing socio-economic conditions, drugs, Mrs. Thatcher, technology.
In turn the work of pioneer artists can become a stimulus for other artists. You could argue that these artists were responding to a secondary stimulus.
You can’t attach any value to primary as opposed to secondary stimulus. Yes, there’s lots of sixties music which is special because it had to invent itself; nobody had done it before (Sargeant Pepper). Equally, there’s lots of excellent music which has no other remit than to refine and revisit what has gone before.
It isn’t that hard to find external stimulus for words. There’s plenty to feel despondent and scared about. Simply being fifty plus and out of work will drive any amount of creativity.
As for the music: what I have done with the small symphonies project is put myself into a situation – under duress even – and forced myself to adapt. I’ve abandoned the comfort zone of the conventional rock band, electric instruments, steel strings and plectrums – and the van (well actually, I had to sell them – and nobody would give me anything for the band). I’ve also limited what I’ve been listening to – unless it’s in a completely different genre. I have a particular sound in my head which somehow, come hell or high water, I will get the ******* nylon guitar to deliver. Is it happening? A bit – but in the process I’m finding a lot of other stuff.
So the external stimulus is a bit artificial. In visual art there is something called the ‘limited palette’ principle. Same idea: use one or two colours, one or two brushes. Make yourself work.
There is also an environmental consideration. I became increasingly conscious of my Marshall’s profligate energy consumption – how many gigawatts of heat it produced per decibel of hearing loss; the energy expended on lights, diesel for the van etc etc. And this was only for a tuppenny ha’penny (yes, decidedly middle aged turn of phrase) pub band. I hate to think of the carbon cost of a theatre gig, let alone a stadium.
My vision for the future is of musicians unencumbered by hardware travelling between venues by bus and rail; the venues themselves often just people’s houses: houseconcerts.org.uk for example. This could be and probably is combined with couch surfing: couchsurfing.com. There again, perform over the net.