Dovecote tunnel: it’s happening now

20 03 2011

Sounding Out. An exploration of natural acoustics, architecture and sacred sites.
in situ improvisations, inspired by the spirit (and the acoustics) of a location, and by the now.

Being in the moment is possibly one of the most difficult things in modern times. Playing improvisation certainly helps develop a sense, an ear, a feeling for being present and bouncing off whatever comes your way. Hopefully, since we are talking music here, what comes your way is only sounds. If cans of beer and tomatoes (worse, rotten eggs…) start flying, then it’s best not to be there altogether…!

Presence, is of course, presence of mind, focus, and attention to details, to what one is doing. In a live context, as in life in general, this is really a hard task when so much is happening, on stage but also in the audience. Mixed energies, conflicts of personality, multiple melodic lines and cross rhythms… And as a musician, one has to be open, to listen out and respond to all this…

After many years of this exploratory activity, i have played in many types of locations, outdoor, and also inside churches, abbeys – which i still consider outdoors, to a certain extent. By this i mean that it is away from a controlled environment (home or studio), or from an out of control, environment for that matter (like on stage….!) and at best, are just as cold and damp as it is outside… in winter.

And Dovecote tunnel, in Derbyshire, is one of those special places where i like to return again and again. I cannot say it is a pleasant place, like many of the churches i have visited, aesthetically pleasing and peaceful energy. Still, the tunnel is located in a rural area amongst beautiful scenery. It is long enough to feel sheltered and yet in open air. But mostly, it has an outstanding character, built with stone (not concrete, which helps), and a reverb that lasts more than 6 seconds, with its own idiosyncratic tone and colour.

More than anywhere else, the architecture becomes another instrument one has to be aware of and interact with.

All the Sounding Out recordings are based on this very idea of playing with a space, in the moment. And every location imposes a certain mood, an approach to playing, and sometimes specific tones when they inhabit the environment, respond to its resonant frequency(ies).

But here is something special. A tunnel is simply a long tube. So i am blowing my soprano sax (a long tube) inside another one. And the tunnel as its own resonant frequency and strong character that you simply cannot escape. So much that if one plays a note near enough the formant frequency, the space bends the note until it blends and joins in the ‘correct’ tuning of the place.

The sustain is so long that what you have just played is still interacting with what you are now playing. This is beats paradise. The round shape carries sounds perfectly (so everything sounds clear even at a distance, in spite of the MASSIVE reverb) and all sounds are really amplified. Mega-reinforcement and beatings, immersed in sound, it’s better than a massage… this is brain loving cuddles and blowing sweet kisses into your ear lobe.

Even in the winter season, i just forget about fingers becoming blue and sax being cold and out of tune… i just can’t leave. It’s like walking into your favourite record shops. Which is bad news cos you are lost to the world for hours. Yet, being lost in sound, still implies complete focus on all waves. Like riding on the crest (yes, my surfer friends). Hearing both tiny details and the whole soundscape at the same time. It is like meditation.

Last time i got lost in sound, this happened:

returning home

swainsley tunnel
soprano saxophone, 08 march 2011

Dovecote tunnel, Swainsley 08 03 2011
hervé perez, soprano saxophone, ⓒ 2011




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