Of course, not everything can or should be in push-push-push mode, even within the field of creative endeavour.
The last two albums – “A Grounding” and “Consequences” – pretty much exhausted my supply of ongoing song ideas. Normally there’s a rolling stock of these from which, in each ongoing project, one or two at least will seem appropriate to fit into whatever the current frame may be. All of them will have had a degree of work done on them at some time or another – and will, therefore, have seemed – to me at least – to have some level of intrinsic merit.
I’ve known that I’ve been heading towards another period of solo recording since the summer. As always, I’ve been looking to find another different wrinkle in the approach to this work.
So in September I began the process of building up the ideas bank once more. As ever, this meant improvisation. I’ve never been (and, after all these years, am still not) a writer who plans ahead or even has the capacity to do so. I don’t have any musical theory at my disposal except my own instincts. So writing has always started with experiment by way of improv for me. If I have a skill (he bigs himself up here) it’s that I can recognise the germ of a decent idea as it drifts by on top of a flood of….less promising strokes.
In my normal working mod, though – if such a thing actually exists, a matter for debate – I’d improvise for a while and then immediately start filleting, carving, wrapping whatever resultant stuff may have fallen in my hands. So that, in fact, I would not end up with too much disparate material on my hard drives….
This time, with the “potentially useful” folders pretty empty, I decided to take a different approach. Day by day I played in musical streams of consciousness *without* then doing any work on, editing or analysis of them. I moved from sound to sound, instrument to instrument, strange tuning to even stranger (oh, yes, I try to trip/free myself up with these on a regular basis) and then moved on. (Naturally, I only actually began to record (midi or audio) ideas which seemed at least modestly interesting…but my studio is currently set up so that one punch will put me instantly into record mode, whatever instrument I’m playing.)
I ended up with many, many ideas, from the coherent to the purely sonic. I didn’t look back at any of them in evaluation for a moment, but simply pressed on with others.
When October’s touring came along I took stereo mixes of the ideas (some of which were overlayed multitracks in fact, I’ve oversimplified things a little bit in the previous spiel) with the thought that in the course of a couple of days off I’d manage to start sorting them into some kind of coherent classification. Fat chance. The oncoming show is always such a locus on tour that “free” time is to be treasured…not pressured. I didn’t listen to a single track during the tour. I did, mind, add to the idea pool by recording another two or three improvs….it’s in the nature of these things that when I actively start chasing after/being aware of new things more and more will present themselves.
I reached November, then, with a large amount of material. The weekend before last I finally took myself off to a different location where I could go through the pieces in a conscientious, even-paced, unprejudiced manner, in neutral and unchanging listening conditions and without any outside distractions. This was a passive, note-taking exercise, without any attempt to begin work on editing or adapting the pieces. A reacquaintance with the stuff without any preconceptions.
I’ve ended up with lists of probables/possibles. I may even have ended up with an initial working theory for this set of recordings.
And of course that’s to say that, now I’m back, I have, however slowly, begun making the next record.