Iain Cameron's Diary
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2004-04-11 - 6:23 p.m.
I meant to post this before I went away:
“I enjoyed the TV about Leonardo da Vinci especially the interaction between his vision and the current engineering approach which sought to put the vision into practice. The insights into his personality were fascinating – especially the tendency to produce broad systems rather than specific results – also his desire to push on into dangerous areas of investigation using corpses. Very Deleuzean.
Steve Pheasant was a master of that whole domain and I was reminded of him by the shots of the Oxford anatomy class for artists. Steve took his anatomic knowledge into every conceivable area, not least the proportions used in artistic representations from different periods. (Steve ran the bebop quintet that Ashley Brown sometime HC drummer would sit in with in Drury Lane)
James and I watched some of American Beauty – which I really enjoyed the first time round – but doesn’t seem to be a film that you can watch over and over again – except for Annette Bening who is magnificent. I predict that in future years historians will study her performance to get a better insight into how New Labour failed to deliver..
Talking of such failures and especially those which have caused me a fair measure of personal grief, I was amazed to read today how much money is involved in not making the railways work. According to the Observer we could build a brand new railway system for a fraction of the sum we aim to spend making the current one work badly. The difference is that if one we were starting again there would be a single team of competent people spending the money whereas with the actual system that will operate will involve many less than competent teams generating mountains of interface waste.
Both yesterday and today I have started the day with some flute practice – it’s the season of the year when I feel the need for the health benefits which come from practising long notes and arpeggios. I have a new arpeggio exercise which goes up an octatonic scale which I find pleasing.
I probably said last year at about this time that the issue of sustaining an extra edge of performance competence on the instrument is perplexing. I don’t think I can handle the emotional dynamics of sustaining more than my default level of competence – it is frustratingly pointless – so why bother apart from the health benefits that appear to accrue when I have been more careless than usual with my physical well being. That may be the best reason for occasional bouts of systematic breathing and finger exercise.
I am wondering whether to get the Yamaha seen to by the Leamington flute tech. It is very good to play, very familiar, almost loose but you only have to look at it to see that it could be better – and I think it must be five years since anyone knowledgeable dealt with it. It feels very very different from the Buffet – different nationality and of course a very different age. The Yamaha is slightly younger than Vita.
I have been thinking about the classic Rhythm change bridge harmonies and the use of the octatonic scale. You can use an octatonic scale over a classic dominant seventh and there are a couple of ways of thinking about the construction of phrases using a tritone. I have never thought through the patterns implicit in taking that approach to the whole four chord bridge sequence. One result is that the same scale is used for the first and fourth chord change which gives a kind of constructive logic in its own right – A B C A or maybe A1 A2 B A3 which is a sub-symmetry of the 32 bar structure.
When bebop first appeared Charlie Parker said (either to Miles or Dizzy) that there came a point when he realised how he could used the whole chromatic scale on certain chord changes. The style became well established and influential and certain second phase teachers and theorists came up with an algorithmic approach whereby those who wanted to master the style could think about harmonies in simplified ways but still deliver a result that sounded like the real thing. These algorithms (a kind of knowledge management you could say) are a kind of intellectual property that can be used to satisfy a demand. – say within one of the markets that Charlie Alexander supplies.(Charlie played guitar in the Steve Pheasant Quintet – Nick Brown now at Hughes Hall played piano rather in the manner of McCoy Tyner.)
Back to the future.
On the north bank of the Rialto – first on the left – is a record shop where I bought the CD I am listening to now.- Siesta. It’s a Marcus Miller – Miles Davis collaboration from 1987 – which I generally overlooked, overshadowed by Tutu and Amandla on the one hand and by Lift to the Scaffold on the other (which is also film music for a famous Louis Malle film.)
Actually I think Ian Carr overdoes it on Lift to the Scaffold but it might be worth getting the remastered reissue with less reverb to make sure.
I think Siesta is pretty good. Sooner or later people will realise that Marcus and Miles found a new way of doing things – and that when the impact of the DX7 on musical evolution is properly understood, their contribution will turn out to have been as important as anyones’. The line might go from Sheffield (out of Miles 70s period) to the Detroit three to Miller-Miles-Music.(There’s an industrial episode on Siesta).
All the recorded output from Miles’ last decade will get a proper valuation eventually but it hasn’t happened yet. (Maybe the way Joni Mitchell used synths in the 80s will get a look in.)
Even within the arcana of Miles film music Siesta sits alongside the Taj-Mahal/John Lee Hooker stuff that happened a year or rwo later. Commentators tend to marginalize all this material because it isn’t like something else – Siesta isn’t enough like Sketches of Spain and Marcus Miller isn’t enough like Gil Evans – anyway there are ideological reasons for looking sideways at that Concerto . The Lee Hooker Chicago stuff isn’t enough like Walkin and Blues n Boogie. Even QT says how bad he thinks The Man With The Horn is. I really don’t understand how he wrote that comment – after all its one of the final Teo Macero productions so you could say it’s the end of the line for Varese’s impact on the evolution of jazz in the 20th century.
Some of the last things that Miles did may have been retrospective but they weren’t all. People need to think harder about what it means not to repeat oneself and to find differences at different stages of a long creative career. Compulsory Deleuze I say.
You can certainly hear Jaco P in some of the Miller intonation on Siesta. And there are similaries between Siesta and some of the Palle Mikkelborg stuff with John Maclaughlin.
At the end of the 80s I stopped playing in the 16 piece Barcelona Band – Hullabaloo – which had been fun in a marking time kind of way – and may well have been important in keeping the music alive. I have looked a lot on the web for references to that whole tradition but have yet to track anything down. We had played with some interesting people like the Joan Collins Fan Club and John Heggarty in the cabaret clubs of South London and Islington.
After the Pheasant band stopped Hullaballoo had been a gig that was to hand. But I hate playing from parts and eventually my default level of technique drops. When I stopped those gigs, to keep the show on the road, I bought the Yamaha 300 series and started to mess with James’ Amiga. The other day looking through the Minidiscs I found my first Amiga attempt at electronica – I wrote a piece that reflected my interest in the gradual diffusion of techno – a piece I still quite like although I think its weird that the guitar part sounds like John Mac. At the time I didn’t really understand how much M Miller was pulling my strings although I did do a piece with a sample of a Miles tone from a 50s quintet recording – preposterous isn’t it.
Since no one will get this far down this piece, I can say a bit more about Highveld Easter Plundafonix – it’s the first CD that I produced that has Robin and Gilbert on it together with Cathy and some punk ska from Cambs. On the Dell there is a lot of remixing of Cathy singing that V Williams piece which uses the gamelan scale which I mean to curate as soon as I get a Net MD – actually I nearly got one in the Gatwick duty free.
It also has a version of Horn which Gilbert said he liked ( which builds on the live duet Andrew and I did in Leyland in 1999)and a piece which has become the memorial for Regan von Schweitzer plus a version of My Back Pages on the CZ101 that I think is very original. – esp in the way that the tune is just present in the bass. Bodyspace Lullabye leads on from there
The thing about doing a seasonal collection is that it tends to return each season. (There’s a lot in Deleuze about the eternal return which I don’t understand.) Well HEP certainly returns in Blink Music Beyond Belief .(Peter Crowther and I performed the basic idea a couple of times in Guildford. )
I read in the Wire this month that from C Parker you can see 3 directions – Trane, Ornette and Cecil Taylor. I can see how in working the seasonal theme I started on the Ornette path – which Steve P had always understood better than I – Steve tended to work back from Ornette to Parker in the 70s. (Its an odd that Jon Cole’s band once shared the bill with C Taylor at Ronnie Scott’s.)
It also represents a use of Dhorn in a full on sheets of notes fashion. Listening to the Man with the Horn as I write this I can hear how I picked up the guitar chording on those tracks.
I could go on – but I’d better stop by saying how pleased I am that Nick Totton is sending me a copy of his new Selected Poems.