Thursday, November 29, 2012

"going through changes..."

well... i did start this year talking of expectations of change. [and of course we still don't know whether all those 2012 predictions will come to anything. 21st december, right? i'm not expecting the end of the world, myself; but we do seem to be due some major changes, if the human race is going to continue at all. still time to squeeze those in, this year..? only if something drastic happens, i think. so who knows, maybe there will be some sort of cataclysm. don't have to wait too long to find out now, do we?] that has certainly turned out to be prophetic as far my own life is concerned... having had to make a whole series of adjustments as i got used to a new job, a different daily and weekly routine, and a lot less free time (not that i was making particularly good use of the time i got to myself before, it must be admitted), i then found myself adjusting again as i shifted to permanent lates at work... and then i went through a sort of nervous breakdown. (i'm still not sure exactly how much of a breakdown this really was, bearing in mind that even in the middle of it, i was still working - just about - but in any case, i seem to be over the worst of it.) i can't actually remember what really triggered this, but it's not at all irrelevant that i stopped smoking ganja almost two months ago. hence i now find myself rebuilding from the inside, with a certain amount of help and support available to me, but without the old familiar self-medication to fall back on. changes... you bet.

one of the most significant knock-on effects of this (as if the loss of my habitual mood-regulator and sedative were not quite enough) is the withdrawal of psychoactive benefits. for far too long now, i have generally relied on external help for my bursts of inspiration and insight... but of course there is now a nagging fear in my mind that without external help, certain things might remain inaccessible to me, one of these being my insights into creative music.  simply put, my breakthrough in understanding avant-garde/free jazz and related musics (which itself is detailed here) was itself very much cannabis-assisted; needless to say the same is true of the inception of the braxtothon; and although since then things have not always been quite that simple (there have been occasions when i was able to get deeply into music when "straight", and others when i didn't manage to get into anything much, despite being as high as a kite), it has usually been the case that i hear improvised music, in particular, with a great deal more clarity when i am in that state. there has often seemed to be something crucial missing, otherwise: it's as if a necessary backdrop, an inaudible (but nevertheless present) sonic context is only accessible to me when i'm high. some recordings of free improv in particular have sounded completely different to me in those two headstates: straight, all i've heard has been dissonant sounds without shape or coherence, whereas the same recordings heard when high have revealed themselves within context right from the very first notes, each successive entry then slotting neatly into an established framework.

i don't know what to do about this; i only know that after months and years of promising myself that i was going to get my smoking habits properly under my control, i have finally acknowledged that it's not happening and isn't likely to, any time soon. hence, for the time being at least, i have quit altogether. what does that leave me with? well, funnily enough i am listening to a lot of music at the moment. (the irony here is that for much of this year i found myself with no desire to listen to anything at all, despite smoking heavily - more often than not.) so far, though, it's been almost exclusively metal or hardcore punk, and very little else... with scattered exceptions, i have not yet felt like delving back into creative music, and very possibly i am afraid of what'll happen - or won't happen - if and when i do; but at least i am listening to stuff, and enjoying it, and for the time being that might have to be enough. call it warming up, or flexing my ear muscles, or whatever; all too often during these last few years i have found it impossible to get interested in anything unless i was high, so the fact that i am getting heavily back into music again may even represent real progress :)

sigh... this was not intended to be any sort of moratorium. what it was intended to be, following yet another of my (periodic but increasingly frequent) "blog silences", was a quick roundup of some things i'd not dealt with yet:

1. first and foremost there is the not-so-small matter of this video clip. mcclintic sphere drew my attention to it in a comment, weeks ago now - and it took me ages to get round to watching it. (see above for one obvious reason. but also, even more simply, my new schedule means that i rarely get 75 mins to sit in one place and watch something these days...) - anyway, although i didn't necessarily get much "out" of it, i did enjoy it and i was planning to write about it. unlike some of my recent plans, this one is still likely to turn into an actual post. coming very soon, so i shan't so anything more about it here.

2. i did finally sort out the ludicrous situation with my lack of a functioning cassette-player... and still haven't found the time (or indeed the inclination, just yet - again, see above) to listen to any tapes. ah, but they're not going anywhere...

3. leo feigin, at least, apparently thinks the world will end on the winter solstice, and is therefore having the leo records sale a little early this year. (then again, not all of the catalogue is going in the sale, so perhaps mr feigin is expecting to survive the apocalypse after all. as far as our guy's stuff is concerned, i notice that this one is not on offer, and neither is this one. not quite sure what sets those two apart, but something evidently does. i don't actually have either of those albums yet, which is why i know they aren't in the sale...) hmm, so if i'm actually going to do a piece on that james fei solo album i'd better get my finger out. otherwise, there goes another year. [when it comes to the question of what happened to the blog this year - no, i don't fully understand it myself. these things do tend to be a bit cyclical though, so please bear with me and i'm sure the activity will return. if the world doesn't end next month, naturally...]

4. mary halvorson's last album... yes, i did buy it and yes, i did play it several times in the week that followed. actually, this was pretty much the last music of this type i did listen to before the well dried up. and yes, i was going to write about it, wasn't i? that didn't happen. not to say that it won't... although it has to be said, thus far i didn't draw any particular interesting conclusions about it. it's definitely a good album though and i will be going back to it for sure - perhaps it might even help me "cut my teeth" again, so to speak.

5. creative musicians have been dropping like flies over the last few years, indeed every year since i got into this sort of music. normally, i don't have much to say, and therefore don't say anything. this is not because i'm callous (although i don't necessarily regard death with as much sorrow as is customary in western culture); if there is anything calculated in this at all, it is possibly the fact the blog was always intended to be about celebrating the living and thus avoiding the usual critical stereotype of not bothering to say anything much about a musician until he or she is safely dead and gone, then suddenly making out that one was always a huge fan. yeah, ok, there was probably an element of deliberately eschewing that at times but most of the time, it was just because i really didn't have much to contribute. one occasional reader (and fellow former user of the bbc messagebored) posted a comment here when lol coxhill died, asking whether i was going to make my own tribute - but although i respected the man and enjoyed everything i heard of his playing (and hey, if he was good enough for b. then that's good enough for me), the truth of the matter is, i never really knew his music well at all. other players have passed in the last few years whose music i know far better - andrew hill, for example, or more recently sam rivers - and i still didn't feel i had much to say that would have been worthwhile.

but i did want to say just a few words about david s. ware, even if i am embarrassingly late in doing so. something about the man's playing did speak to me quite directly, whether this was solo (superb solo record came out last year, iirc) or in a group context; and again, those groups were not limited to ware's "great quartet" with matthew shipp and william parker (plus revolving drum chair). yes, this group achieved something significant in its own right (and surely provided the last word on the coltrane quartet, if you know what i'm saying... once that group was done, any need for further digging in that well-mined ground disappeared with them imo), but the subsequent quartet with joe morris was just as good, to my ears, and i enjoyed listening to them just as much. i am not so familiar with ware's earlier work, just the odd album here and there (e.g. flight of i, obviously - though i haven't heard it for a while) - but like i say, in whatever context i encountered his sound, i always found it extremely compelling and powerful. i am sure that he will be greatly missed.