A gradual start

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.


23 Comments on “A gradual start”

  1. donald ferguson says:

    Having read the previous twenty or so comments, what comes to mind is a line in one of the Dalmations movies, when Richard E. Grant is asked,”What kind of sycophant are you?”, only to respond, “What kind of sycophant do you want me to be?” Peter, I trust that you don’t take too much of this tosh to heart? You might wind up believing in your own myth! “Alt” was mince!

  2. John France says:

    I agree/disagree.

    I don’t see the point of covers. I don’t see what that’s all about.

    And yes, though I salute that tri-colour flagpole, the VdGG three-piece seems…..something lacking.

    There’s been a precedent: Dickie and Smith. And Gordon.

    Introvertion, non-collaboration, bloody-mindedness, 20-20 slogging, all fine, and when it comes together just so peachy (here I’m harking wayback to the days of 1980 and A Black Box), but co-operation, some form of editing, raises the game. Some burnished surface to reflect .. and to reflect.

  3. Stuart Whitfield says:

    Some good ideas already in these comments. My thoughts:

    1. an album of covers is indeed a good idea – e.g. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ catalogue offers more than enough to get started with and a lyrical richness ripe for new interpretations and nuances. There’s no expectation that you release new material regularly. Relax and discover/rediscover some existing material (which may indeed positively inform your own new work in future)

    2. VDGG doesn’t ‘work’ as well without sax or another texture – yes it’s different, but not in a good way

    3. rediscover Stuart Gordon’s genius in some collaboration. He’s been doing sterling stuff with Steve Tilston recently and is sounding as inspired as ever

    4. what about a solo uk tour of acoustically standout/atmospheric venues – St George’s Bristol, Union Chapel etc? The foreign stuff must be soooo tiring and you’ll find there’s an informed, passionate and appreciative audience here on your doorstep (who are equally willing to pay ticket prices, probably more so than those in the PIIGS countries)!

    Anyway, that’s all very presumptuous of me. Thank you for all your insight, your music and your uncompromising stance on the same.

    Best wishes for Christmas and 2013

    Stuart Whitfield

    • A. says:

      Using the term PIIGS is offensive, a lot of people are having a very tough time. And they don’t like being called that way.
      And anyway, coming here or to South America is Peter’s only chance to taste some decent food, for a change.

      • Stuart Whitfield says:

        Yes, roast guinea pig is such a delicacy! Sorry about the PIIGS thing – thought it was common parlance and non-offensive. The touring comments still stand. And where is the first gig of 2013? Geneva? Bugger, am in Zurich the next day!

  4. Daniel says:

    What about bringing back ….David LORD…What a fantastic job he did on Fireships…and a different saxophonist that would fit more the moods you are in actually like Mel Collins (i know he is expensive probably)? but he is the best! And exploring 2 pianos would be very interesting
    I think you would have a discovery path there superposing them in the open spirit that characterize your work…2 pianos (Lord is great 2 on piano) and a saxophone hummmm…ideas..ideas…

    I have been writing plays for 15 years now and time has got indeed no importance. The work is outside time…Time are for the entertainers and the buziness… the rest is our history (in the french sense) in finding the story

  5. patricia says:

    Such an amazing thing it is to take a look at your insights.

  6. Ólafur Auðunsson (Iceland) says:

    Good news! Do more solo it´s so much better than VdGG.Best regards.

  7. john mccartney says:

    Nice one Peter. After reading your ‘push push push’ update I thought you might be planning to take a bit of a break. Not that you’re not entitled, but, for purely selfish reasons, I’m glad you’re not. All the best to you and your family for the festive season. Thanks for everything.

  8. As always beautifully written Peter, but then one could one expect from you ?

  9. Nigel Green says:

    Ever thought of doing an album of covers? Theres been the odd Chris Judge Smith song but nothing else.

  10. jaytausig says:

    Really glad to hear that a new one is in the works. It’s always with great anticipation that I look forward to a new PH release. The methods behind each one vary a great deal, and the listener never really knows what to expect but that’s a part of the magic you bring to the table every time, in my opinion. As always, it’s nice to hear what you are up to…

  11. Mikayel says:

    …. A new page is about to open (couldn’t be the other way).

  12. Peter Alexius says:

    i love your way of risk taking in your own way with your work , improvisation is the pure risk and opens a stage of daily changing velocity .
    i follow you now since 1979 and your work is a part of my life soundtrack
    unforgettable 1991 bochum zeche the trio PH -SG -NP nearly 4 hours , simple songs & great improvisation . was a door opener for understanding to work with a song !
    want to here some day with a nu jazz trio .
    all the best for you and your family

    peter a.

  13. Anonymous says:

    i love your way of risk taking in your own way with your work , improvisation is the pure risk and opens a stage of daily changing velocity .
    i follow you now since 1979 and your work is a part of my life soundtrack
    unforgettable 1991 bochum zeche the trio PH -SG -NP nearly 4 hours , simple songs & great improvisation . was a door opener for understanding to work with a song !
    want to here some day with a nu jazz trio .
    all the best for you and your family

    peter a.

  14. T.J.W.M. Froyen says:

    Harvest Of Some Sprouts On The Soundfield Is Already Done…
    I Am Curious What Dish The Cook Is Preparing For Us !

  15. Adam Matlock says:

    Very satisfying to read this account. As someone who takes a LOT from my experience in improv when I sit down to write something, I there’s a resonance with both approaches – developing right away, and accumulating a lot of ideas before moving on with any of them – and they can both be quite satisfying, if a very different pair of beasts. I’m eager to hear how this approach suits you.

  16. willy vlyminck says:

    Will it be again a complete solo-album,or is there any chance on guest-appearances?

  17. erez says:

    That was a great read! I always imagined that if I would have even the slightest musical ability, this is how I would write music. Too bad I dont play any instrument nor am able to sing :).
    Anyway, as always, eagerly anticipating a new solo album! (And a tour :))

  18. Richard Vernon says:

    Thanks for this insight into your creative process. It seems that many musicians use vastly different methods to get results. Thanks again.

  19. Len says:

    As always ,looking forward to the result. Surprise me (again).


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