It is here you will find texts and notes to accompany my CD set “Cusp of Oblivion”.
Musings on an improvisation over the Wake
It is just a little bit like a dream, this book is. Since when can we clearly remember the narrative journey through our unconscious adventures in the night? More likely we recall certain fragments and moments, perhaps a word here and there. Sometimes it feels like time itself is warped and that in a single moment we have experienced entire stories and voyages. And then all of a sudden, unless we get it down on paper, the whole story that just flew by in our sleeping heads is gone forever.
Well this man managed to get one hell of a dream down on paper and what he left us with is a breathtaking book that is surely overwhelming in its scope for most readers on first reading – “Finnegans Wake” by James Joyce. Joyce spoke of his work as “a nocturnal state…That is what I want to convey: what goes on in a dream, during a dream.” This stands in contrast to his previous novel “Ulysses”, which clearly traces the course of different characters in Dublin in the course of a single day beginning with breakfast and ending in bed in the evening. “Finnegans Wake” is a beast of a read mixing some sixty languages and on the surface it seems not to have a plot at all.
I owe my love of Joyce to an English teacher at New Plymouth Boys’ High School who gleefully revealed to us all the delightful and intriguing parallels between our 1990’s provincial New Zealand boys’ school and Joyce’s youth in 1890’s Dublin. Back then “Dubliners” and “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” were on our desks and we often read aloud. It was then that the small seed of vocalizing Joyce was sowed which now finds form.
Over the years I had often returned to “Finnegans Wake”, usually picking it up for a bit, reading some pages, and then putting it back down. But it was only a few years ago, when I started to read it aloud, remembering fondly that distant English class, that the text suddenly came alive for me. It didn’t matter so much about the meaning of the words, most of which are purposely misspelt or rearranged (the whole book strikes me as a 334 page long pun), rather it was all about the sound. Something clicked and I began to have enormous amounts of fun reading aloud on my own.
A natural progression of this “fun” was to take it on stage. For this, I asked the superb Viennese pianist Philip Zoubek to join me. I selected a few sections of the Wake from my readings that had a sonic quality I liked. Next to me I had the full text and sometimes read randomly from a given page. I also asked the audience to randomly select a page for reading. The book itself is circular in nature without a real beginning or end, just like a dream. On the cover of this CD my etchings connect the last word of the book “the” to the first “riverruns”. And so in a sense the dream of the Wake can be joined anywhere and at any time.
And so we put together our “Finn Again Wakes” performance, which we presented three times in Cologne. This recording is a document of these concerts and we play with the texts in different ways. For example, at minute 4’08” I “play” the text – I read the text and play my saxophone, articulating and intonating as if I was reading aloud. Around 18′ I chant the famous fall
in the Khoomei style of Overtone singing, something I had picked up over the years from singers from Tuva. I found this very fitting for such an urknall kind of word as this one. The melody on the flute I play and loop at 33’36” is one I heard once in a pub in West Ireland – alas, the title I have never found. Sometimes I repeat a phrase or word and even change the order of the words. It is, after all, an improvisation on the text. The last word of the book (“the”) is the last utterance of this recording.
I admit I get a bit excited when I read Joyce. This means I move around a bit, hence some inconsistencies in the distance to the two microphones I used, which may cause some recording purists to cringe and moan. Apologies for that.
Naturally I dedicate this CD to the man himself- someone who continues to inspire in wondrous ways.
PS: Of the many pilgrimages I have made over the years, one was to the house of Joyce in Trieste. It is now a shoe shop and the shoes I purchased there I have worn for years, so much so that they are all but worn out.
My first Sruti Box which came to me in 2011, so dear to me, had suffered from all of my travels. She was broken in parts, the wood had fallen off, as she had taken several knocks along the way. Still though she sounded out beautifully as ever.
A special person in my life observed that my Sruti box was perhaps in the dusk of her life and kindly gifted me with a new one. Now, for the first time I was able to enjoy the sound of the two Sruti Boxes together and how glorious that was.
It so happened that at this time I was experimenting with mixing two tonalities in a single piece. The two sruti boxes were ideal for this as I could underscore the tonalities with the drones and improvise on top. Thus, these pieces are a kind of natural extension to my first work for Saxophone and Sruti Box “The Well Tempered Sruti Box” ( original liner notes below).
Usually when playing I just use my first impulse to choose two keys at random. Then I quickly set the drones and kick off without thinking too much about the melodic strategy to unify them within the piece.. Generally speaking, it feels that the art lies in choosing the right notes to omit. As with my earlier work though for the saxophone and sruti box, the satisfying part is mediating the sonic dialogue between bamboo, metal, wood, and air. The rest seems to fall into place on its own.
These pieces were recorded in the warm sounding space Studio P4 Studios in Berlin. Pedja Avramovic has done a wonderful job of capturing the Srutis in Stereo. The Sruti Boxes are played by Evi Filippou.
Listen to the music here.
Together with the percussionist Evi Filippou in 2015 I worked on a series of new pieces for percussion and saxophone. After several concerts in Greece and in New Zealand we recorded this album in the chamber music hall of Deutschlandfunk in Cologne. Here is a short video documentary of that session, beautifully filmed by the Klangmalerei team:
The last two tracks on the album were recorded by Robert Nacken in the wonderful Abbey de Noirlac in France. Here is a film which gives a fine impression of the space:
The first program I wrote for the Lucerne Jazz Orchestra Mute Density was experimental in nature, I wanted to test how some of my microtonal and overtone based work could be transplanted to the big band sound. I also worked with different kinds of notation together we put together a work which I still enjoy playing and listening to.
For the second program I wanted to something completely different. My first idea was to adapt some Korean temple music for the band but the cost and effort of arranging the temple gongs was beyond our scope. I then decided to write a swing program for the band as I had never tried something of the kind before, I suppose one could call it “learning by doing”. This is how Ace of My Heart was born.
I wrote all the songs in the summer of 2013 with the voice of Lucia Cadotsch in mind. Once I had the sound of the band with her vocals on top in my head the music and words flowed easily.
Naturally there is a kind of cosy quaintness in the lyrics- some have remarked they’re even a little bit naive. I’ve also been asked my some wise radio producers who know my first work for the Lucern Big band if this program is in any way ironic. Well, it isn’t. Once I am in the zone of creating something using sounds I mean exactly what I write.
LINK for the Lyrics to Ace of My Heart
Here are the full poems from the which the first lines respectively form the titles for the pieces.
the soft hum of the murderous century
still hovers around my ears
and in a world where there is no escape
from Vico’s wheel dripping with our blood
what can I do but order a double shot
and under stone by fire
look out smiling at the oncoming storm
the moment you went into my eyes
and said no:
the moment I entered a twilight zone in which
everything was turned on its head
i sit for hours
staring into the sweet furnace of the sun
my only solace
till the onset of the brutal night
and when it comes I lie awake
and from the darkness
demons chew on my soul
savoring it slowly
if i ever surface again
I’ll be harder than diamond
we throw down the cards and glimpse the present
the moment is charged with a voltage enough to kill
from here, possible worlds branch out.
because I see them all
I am frozen yet still sure
that the path you choose for us is perfect.
as I have long since extinguished my choices
just breathe, my love, then choose
(all this I communicate to you in a glance)
trace the paths
of the two souls who met
the pre- and post- explosion
and so you witness the mystery explained to you
the goddess finally sits down and opens her heart to you
your hazy aura merges with hers
and yet of the meeting itself
you remember nothing but the sky, the grass, the dogs
the andean night sky
with its conjunctions of saturn and jupiter
and the milky bridge to the beyond
sent me into a fever of 3 days
with no sleep and the balkan forest to frame
my mad visions of an empty chamber
filled with song and light
on an andalusian desert plain
crowded with dusty3 travelers
I am in a room
heavy with dreams
and love’s scent
I am a daytime visitor
to the human museum of love
watching the writhing exhibitions
the bundles of desire
then returning to my ocean home
descend the seas
to feel my cold embrace
or meet me at 2 in the museum
for turkish delight
Inside I collapse
and give up on you
in a moment
realising the utter futility
with each word I write
I distance myself from that moment
by an age
with each word I don’t write
I hold up time.
and with each silent overtone song
I approach us still sitting under the dark red sky
passed over by love
washed in sound
cleansed by white sunlight
yet left alone
with each pulse of blood
a new self born
if each pulse
could spark a revolution of blood
burning through pain
with white cleansing fire
then the birds would sing me their praise
I become wind
when I play and sing for you
the wind has no tongue
no beginning or end
nor my love for you