At long last I’ve gone into the studio and recorded the program of music I performed at the Salon last May under the title ‘Reimagining the Sacred’. I chose Pughouse Studios in Thornbury because I’d been there before to rehearse and found the space sympathetic – not too large, not too small, and with a grand piano that boasted family history and has a character to match – and because I find Niko Schauble great company, and he’s in charge. I spent a day there, and recorded and mixed (which is to say had recorded and had mixed) the program before nightfall.
Recording used to be terrifying. In about 1992 I remember going to La Trobe University (which had a music department then, believe it or not) in the middle of the night* to put down tracks for an audition tape for the National Jazz Awards at the Wangaratta Festival. Sam Keevers was there too, and the engineers fixed those flat square microphones to the windows in the drum booth saying that if their lecturers had been there they’d have never been permitted to get away with it. I suppose those tapes still exist, somewhere; probably not in the Wangaratta repository, but more likely in a box somewhere in my own fragmented archive. I don’t think this was my first experience recording – very possibly there was something in the studio at VCA before that – but it was scary. The tapes roll, and you think ‘I have to get it right. It must be stunning. Someone is going to hear this.’
Silly, because whenever you play someone tends to hear it, even if it’s the neighbours, trying to get their kid to sleep and saying ‘not the fucking C-sharp minor again. He’s never going to crack that. Why the hell is he still trying?’
We move on. Now I’ve made a few albums, done radio work, accompanied others on their sessions and so forth, and even taped a few things at home. To record is simply to enable witness. While I can’t quite believe I went into the ABC studios and chatted with Andrew Ford before improvising freely,** or performed live to air with Kendra Shank after having known her for less than an hour, these things did happen, and I survived them.
The sacred program was intended, as I suggested before, to be something in the manner of a working backwards to first impulses. Free improvisations progressed to a point where music from my earliest memory was reproduced, and it was hoped that a relationship between the two might be inferred. The improvisations were not meant necessarily to resemble the written music, but it was hoped a certain variety of continuity might be apparent as ideas were worked through.
Before the recording I got into the habit of playing the hour’s music through in a single take, one end to the other with only brief breaks between the movements. Before the concert I had done the same thing, and I even recorded a few of the iterations. In playing, and in listening back, I was pleased that the hour could start from anywhere and negotiate its way towards ‘King’s Lynn’, before setting off from somewhere completely different in search of the music of Charles Wood, and so on.
The recording from Pughouse resembled the concert in its program: the landmarks are the same as were outlined in the post that followed the concert. But the improvisations inevitably differed, and this is the life in the music. The continual drawing from the known, towards the not-yet known.
I’m thinking about releasing this recent recording somehow. Are CDs still viable? Should I do a digital-only edition? Advise me, if you will. Here’s an excerpt for while you think it over.
*Literally. It was the middle of the night. Sam will attest to this.
**It may be that the improvisation came first. I don’t remember.