Last week I joined Seth Cooke, Adam Denton, Kevin Sanders and Layla Smith in a twelve hour performance of Twelve Tapes, a composition of indeterminate duration and instrumentation coordinated by Seth Cooke. This first performance took place in Gallery II at Bradford University. I’d previously visited Gallery II in connection with  my cross-disciplinary research group Music and Textiles Interact, having written the Active Notation system for Nigel’s keyboard work Fifteen Images.

Seth has started compiling an archive of the performance, including a full recording of the twelve hours along with Layla’s photographs over at Bang the Bore, but I wanted to use this opportunity to share some of my own thoughts on the experience.

In the mad rush of the last couple of years I’d had little chance to simply freely make music as part of a continuum. In fact, I was shocked that I’d forgotten how mentally liberating it can be to simply improvise over an extended period. Improvising over a course of hours was one of the cornerstones for how I approached music with Xenis Emputae Travelling Band. In my own practice I found that, after a couple of hours playing amidst some natural scene my mind (and hands) tended to make unusual connections: the act of making music evidently freed something up, often bringing with it profound sense impressions and imagery, which I identified with the voice of the genius loci and made a central part of my musical approach.

The genius loci is a little different here: the twelve tapes of the title being twelve 30-minute recordings made in car parks around the country, often accompanied by improvisations grounded on a B (245.66Hz) drone. Mind-altering nonetheless – after a few ours I was feeling somewhat lightheaded, my imagination taking curious flights and falls of fancy. The recorded sounds of cars revving their motors and cruising around the car park took on a strong simultaneously visual and energetic presence – their appearance seemed to be black shadows traversing the visual and aural field.

Since three of the group were using electronics and signal processing, I decided to take acoustic instruments, and my fingers naturally fell upon the B-major scale, which itself inclines one to play folkish pentatonic ‘black note’ melodies. Playing the accordion I found myself with powerfully reminiscing about the ritual mouth organ music of the Bangladeshi Chimbuck Murung – and if you’ve any interest in either drone, minimalist or world music I suggest you listen here!

Black, fluctuating diesel-spectres amidst a phantom plung orchestra: one of a number of incredibly strong images impressing itself on me during my engagement with Twelve Tapes. Of course, it wasn’t all mildly hallucinatory experience – there were the inevitable troughs (plenty of them on my part) although the highs were invariably accompanied  by imagery and sensation. I now realise that I had fallen into the classic fallacy of believing that because you experience something in a certain way, everyone else does too. Journeying back to Leeds with Seth I mentioned my experience of extended playing and was momentarily speechless to find that visuals and sense impressions were not apparently a part of his musical experience. Previously I had gone so far to speculate that the ideas of their own cosmic genesis that Stockhausen and Sun-Ra shared probably arose as a byproduct of their intense musical activity. It now appears startlingly obvious that this is not so common an experience as I’d assumed.

Twelve Tapes was twelve hours well spent. It reminded me why I make music and enjoy doing so, and gave me a lot to take away and think about for the future. Thanks to Seth for bringing the project together, and to all those who recorded the tapes and played on them.  The next Twelve Tapes performance will be  part of Bang the Bore XIII at the Hansard Gallery, Southampton – although for a lesser duration I believe!

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