After I recorded the Waves album a few weeks ago I fell into something of a slump. I wanted to pick up the guitar and play; it’s sitting in the next room, everything’s set up. But for three straight weeks all I felt was frustration. I tried to play a few times but ended up switching the amp off after a couple of minutes. There was no magic, nothing to latch on to. No colour. I was beginning to think that the month or so of relative productivity I’d had since I started Kowä Axis was a fluke.
Until a few months ago I was in a band whose rate of output could comfortably be described as ‘unfruitful’. We were pretty good, and everyone was very able, but it wasn’t the kind of outfit where each person would be bringing a new song to each practice – we weren’t four Billy Corgan’s drowning in our own productivity. My preferred way of writing at the time involved composing wholly orchestrated songs with a drum machine, but this wasn’t a hugely popular method within the band.
When that band split up and I decided to go it alone I experienced something I’d never felt before – the freedom to create music without any consideration of what anyone else would think. It was a revelatory time. I didn’t need to temper anything for band mates or an audience as, frankly, I had neither.
I put more pieces of music to disk in one month than I had done in the last five years. Admittedly, this process is now much less complicated. The improvised nature of the music means that much of it doesn’t even exist as a concept until the microseconds it takes for the brain to calculate each note before it gets played. In turn though this has let me write the most expressive music I’ve ever played. I’m told you can actually relax to a lot of what’s on the Peripheral Vision record. This is a first.
But after I recorded Waves this all disappeared. I was unhappy with my playing, my surroundings, my gear…and most of all I was unhappy with me.
[I have no doubt that some of my awkward feeling stems from the fact I’ve just spent £250 I don’t actually have on an effects pedal that seems to be malfunctioning and the rather large company that produce it – rhymes with ‘Toss’ – are being less than professional about addressing my concerns . That and the fact that some patch-lead malfunctions are causing noise problems deter me from picking up the guitar. I like that shit to work properly. If the company at hand don’t man-up soon I will start being a little more vocal – it’s remarkably easy to get forum posts expressing your thoughts about a certain product to appear at the top of a Google search.]
The last few weeks have been quite mopey in general, and I sometimes wonder whether my lack of musical productivity is a symptom or a cause. I suspect it’s probably the former. I do seem to have been rather existential about work, money and all the other things that stress everyone out. The rather boring diet I’m on at the moment hasn’t helped although being a stone lighter so far is well worth it.
BUT….last night I had a breakthrough. I decided to try to mine creativity rather than throw a wobbler if inspiration didn’t dance its merry way in my direction. Luckily, it seemed to pay off – I’ve recorded two new songs for the Peripheral Vision record.
The composition method for these tracks was a little more traditional. The aforementioned fussy pedal lets me store loops and start and stop them at will. The one I used for the first four tracks of Peripheral Vision was a one-shot deal. If you stopped the loop it was gone forever. Whilst still stylistically fitting, the new tracks are a little more sophisticated in their structure.
I’ve been listening back to them and whilst good, they present a new theoretical and artistic challenge – should I re-record them? Because I have the basic parts stored in a sampler I can go back any time and re-record a different version. The flaws that are contained within the improvised songs I’ve recorded so far have become just as important as the notes themselves. The more I listen to those songs, the less I hear the bum notes and fluffed timings. These two new tracks contain plenty of them, but now I have the option to go back and do them again.
This provides me with a real challenge. Do I go back and record more polished versions this morning and completely break my accidentally self-imposed rules that everything should be improvised and presented as is?
Can those songs really be considered improvisations if they are essentially re-takes (even though those re-takes would be very different). Does it actually matter? Should I be focussed on putting out the best music I can as opposed to the most raw?
Ten years since I bought it I’m currently re-reading Derek Bailey’s book: Improvisation – Its Nature and Practice in Music, which I hope will shed some light on this matter.
Please do feel free to contribute your opinions in the comments section.
In the meantime I will listen back and see if the flaws can settle in to the music enough for me to be comfortable with them.
Let’s see what transpires…