Music as invocation of spirit and soul

The music I play tends to reflect the mood I am in that day, and whether I am listening attentively or doing something else at the same time.

Today, I have been working and writing whilst listening to music, so the day has veered away from music that demands to be listened to and invades the consciousness. Most of the music I have played today has been classical. As I write this I am listening to ‘Svyati’ which is an album of the music of John Tavener played by the cello player Steven Isserlis.

This brings me to the title of today’s entry. John Tavener is one of a few composers who has the ability to turn the experience of music into moments of epiphany, the invocation of spirit. His music, whether listened to intently or whirring away quietly in the background, can give the sense of being close to something ethereal.

Spirit is brought forth by the music of Tavener, and Arvo Pärt, as well as Gorecki.

What about soul?

I’m jumping ahead here – are you clear what I mean by the distinction between spirit and soul? Spirit is the reaching up to heights, to the airy climbs of the heavenly and heady. Whilst soul is the plumbing of depths, searching into the murky and moist feelings. Whose music brings us to this?

I mentioned the ‘B’s the other day, and I think some of them are in there in the soul of things. So, Bartok at his most passionate can bring us to soul. Bach, in the complexity of Goldberg Variations or The Art of the Fugue can bring us right into the soul of things.

The piece of music which brings the agonies of soul more than any other is probably Fauré’s Requiem. Blistering harmonies and searing incisive moments.

Of course, the feelings I have described are not the exclusive preserve of classical music. I could do a similar visitation for jazz, contemporary music etc.

Oh, and the feel will be different for each of us – but then that is the subjective experience of listening to music. Whilst I find ‘Kid A’ by Radiohead an example of soul you may feel differently. Does it matter? Of course not – we all have valid experiences of music. Love it or hate it, the key thing is to evoke a response of some sort.

Some people hate Captain Beefheart, but surely that is better than just feeling plain indifferent to something.

Introverts

“many introverts produce work so controlled and organised that all life has gone from it”

– William Empson

The introvert needs to take extra effort to get out there and interact, otherwise the tendency to define life in terms of achievements can become all-consuming at the expense of sanity.

Ideas of introvert and extravert personality types are set out in Carl Jung’s work. The psychologist, Dorothy Rowe talks about the character types associated with these in her books on depression, particularly ‘Breaking the Bonds’ which emphasises the need for the introvert to maintain contact with the outside world to keep a grip on reality.

Celebrating Procrastination

So we all find it difficult at times to apply ourselves to the things that need doing, when there are lots of things that don’t need doing, but we want to do because they are fun!

This morning I was supposed to be settling to the redrafting of the PhD thesis which I feel like I have been working on since the beginning of the 18th century. I have been sitting down to do this for weeks now, and only succeeding maybe one in six times. The rest of the time is applied to other useful things, but not the task in front of me.

It’s a great way to clear backlogs of papers, and wipe away the dust. There must be a good book to be written on the subject of everything that can be done when you’re trying to avoid doing the main task of the day. Let’s face it, even writing weblogs is a good way of avoiding doing that difficult task.

Well, this morning I managed to overcome the problem by spending half an hour on an exercise from Julia Cameron’s book ‘The Artist’s Way’. The exercise is called ‘Blasting through Blocks’ and is well worth a try if you find it difficult to get on with things.

She focuses on the two big blockages – anger and fear. By bringing them into sharp relief we can unravel all sorts of baggage about fear of success, avoiding the risk of failure and so on. The key to the whole thing is that it really does work.

Music and the letter B

Last night I surfed the internet and found musical downloads from Christian Fennesz (the guy who contributed to the last track on Sylvian’s new album) – beautiful and mysterious music. And I found heaps of material in the archive of Resonance FM which is a London based music station broadcasting over the airwaves and the internet. Some interesting stuff here.

I’ve also been listening to tracks by Farmers Manual and Autreche – strange noises, but interesting experiences still.

On the CD player, I’m listening to Eno, Sylvian and the new Radiohead album which is growing in my consciousness. In the car is ‘Heathen’ by David Bowie which has something incredibly catchy tunes on it.

This morning my concentration was helped by listening to late Beethoven string quartets – Beethoven, Bartok and Bach really help me to concentrate. What is it about the letter B?

CD-R’s are the great democratisers

So, no longer are the realms of recording the domain of the big record companies and the elite that can afford equipment. Now, anyone with a PC which has a CD Rewriter can produce CD-R’s with whatever they want on them.

Last night I spent a couple of hours experimenting with sound files, and creating recordings of my poetry. The product from this was a very rough first cut 13 minute CD of the title sequence from the book “zen words”.

Today I borrowed a sound effects CD from my local library. Tomorrow night I will experiment with this to see what I can produce. The results so far are already really good. Years ago I worked with tape recorders and a microphone, but digital sound gives much more control over what I can do. I can merge sounds, combine files, and clean up sound quality. I can also produce multiple copies without impacting on the quality – no build up of hiss and background noise like you get from tape.

Well, as I write this I have just had a brainwave! I have limited space capacity on my website, but I could easily put an mp3 file onto it with an excerpt of “zen words”. That would be excellent!!

We live in an exciting world….

Minimal input / maximum outcome

23:16 already. Hectic day behind me. The work on booklets, publicity material etc continues at a frantic pace. Work also goes by at a lightning streak. And all through all, I am left wondering whether the more one knows the less one knows – if you know what I mean.

If only I could write as originally as Frank O’Hara or Charles Bukowski. But then this is the eye of the observer. The challenge is to just find the voice within and let it spring forth. Words, words – heaps of them.

Some day come rain come shine

Come anytime

Watching for the heartbeat missed

And the order of the list

Time for sleep, and more sense and recompense tomorrow!

Bluewater books is launched

I have already mentioned that the first book in the bluewater books imprint is being prepared and will be ready by the end of this week. Why am I doing this?

Well, after years of dreaming about being a published writer – and struggling with the reality that there is not a living to be earned from writing poetry – I have finally found a way of breaking through all of this stasis.

The mistake is in thinking that I would have to make a living out of writing. I already make a living. Then it’s a question of re-framing the whole idea of writing and seeing it as something that isn’t driven by financial issues. Thus, I can produce a book as and when I have the spare cash to do so, and give them away to people who I think will appreciate them. That way I build an audience for what I am trying to communicate, rather than burying away my work on a shelf in the house.

Recently I was reading an old diary of mine, and found the following, which is relevant to all of this:

Quote from an interview with the artist Albert Irvin (in Stride #35, Storming Heaven): –

“The creative cycle isn’t complete until another human being is looking at the painting and hopefully responding…. I’d rather have paintings out in the world where people can see them and they can fulfil their function. It’s of no consequence if they’re propping up the walls in my studio. Painting is a language of communication – generally speaking, give me a wall and I’ll hang a painting on it.”

Is this as true for writing as it is for painting? Well, writing is certainly a language of communication – that’s tautological! So, the purpose of it is important.

In a truly Jungian synchronicitous way, I then stumbled across something else in a book which I have picked almost at random. The book, Julia Cameron’s ‘The Right to Write’, is a really useful book which builds on her ideas in ‘The Writers Way’ and ‘The Vein of Gold’. In this book she presents examples and ideas to spur on the writer and overcome writers block, lack of confidence etc. She talks about the need for the writer to have “friendly readers”. That’s uncanny! It maps exactly to the point which I had been exploring with the advent of bluewater books. It vindicates my idea that I need to get my work out there to people who will treat it sympathetically, and that this will help to motivate me to write more.

oh Monday mornings

It’s always just a little challenging to get things moving on a Monday morning. The sun is shining outside. I am sitting in my study, looking out over the garden and trying to stay focused on work. This is always a bit of a challenge, but it is made harder at the moment. Last week I put together the first book under my new “bluewater books” imprint. This is an idea which is filling me with so much excitement. It has been a long time coming to something, but finally we are there. The first book, ‘zen words’, a collection of poems is now a reality. I am going to put together a mailing list to share these books with. (If you want to be on the list, send me an email).

The brain waves have been gently washed with three CDs this morning. I began with Brian Eno’s ‘Music for Films’ from 1978, followed by ‘freefall’ by Darkroom which is a CD-R that is available for free. Follow the link if you want a copy. And as I write this, I am listening to ‘Music for Airports’ by Brian Eno.

Very much an ambient feel to things this morning. This afternoon, I am going to listen to the new Radiohead album, ‘Hail to the Thief’. I bought it on Saturday and am still trying to find a spare hour to listen to it.

Here’s a poem from ‘zen words’ so that you can see what I am talking about:

– – – – – – – – –

zen three – second theme

when flower unfurls

then the true meaning of light can reveal itself

when my thoughts flow out

then the blocks can be pushed down

as I hover in air, snapping scenery

like a frenetic instamatic

then look back later

remember detail whether it was there or not

the sun, less the cloud, less the rain

hearing tugs at the pieces of sound that fall upon my head

because it is only when they are shuffled into a co-ordinate

that I can truly understand what they communicate

then, as the light sparkles and crackles as a bonfire

I can see through each moment of reality

as my breath slows down and quietens, I can hear it

listening carefully to each crest and trough

I find the essence of true care

the wisps of steam that rise, then disperse

the sense that we are all connected

all part of the same

in pain as well as laughter

for the smiling spirit is attached to the dour soul

and the message between the two is the balance,

the secret that we harbour

a dare that we keep

a shadow that we can see.

– – – – – – – –

The book is in three sections – the poem quoted is from the middle section which gives its title to the book as a whole. In it I explore aspects of living in the present moment, and of understanding the inter-connections between the senses.

A journey begins with a small step

Welcome to my own weblog, where I will use the space perhaps once or twice a week to explore poetry, music and all things associated.

Friday 13th June is a rather inauspicious day to begin posting! Well, it’s always worth challenging the superstitions.

Poetry – who? The predictable list:

Seamus Heaney
Ted Hughes
Margaret Atwood

Not so obvious:

Robert Bly
Tomas Transtromer
Rainer Maria Rilke
Charles Bukowski

So, a blog then! Well, this is going to be a place for comments and ideas to develop. I’m interested in poetry as writer and reader – I’m interested in music as an absorber of sounds, not yet a musician. But with the technology all around us, it is less about technical competence, and much more to do with the flair of creative ideas.

Great music I am listening to this week:

1. David Sylvian – blemish
2. Porcupine Tree – in absentia
3. Darkroom – freefall
4. Captain Beefheat – Safe as Milk / Mirrorman
5. Terje Rypdal – :rarum

There’s five to be going on with then! The choices tend to reflect whether I am in the car or at the desk. This week I have been at the desk more than I have out and about – so, the choice is more ambient in feel. This gives the brain space for a little thinking…

The new Sylvian album only arrived on Monday. It’s an internet only release (available here), so it came from the USA. It’s a weird album, takes several plays to get anywhere near what is going on. After six plays I am beginning to feel the underlying structure and melodies. There are some beautiful, stark and painfully open songs on this album. The final track ‘a fire in the forest’ is beautiful.

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