Sounding Out returns to the wintry North

26 02 2017

Traveling to a short retreat in a secluded and wild area in the North of England, i stopped at a wonderful site i had visited before. Christ the Consoler church in Newby is quite a unique space of impressive presence. The architecture is both grand and intimate as it is a commissioned church on private grounds.

The acoustics are similarly subtle and elevating at the same time. The feel of the place and its sonic quality provide a very interesting balance to my playing. The space requires the usual reverence inspired by the religious sites i have explored, and yet, its private, quiet and somehow isolated quality provides a sense of freedom and adventurous exploration.

So on that day, my playing was similarly balanced between the soulful melodic approach that sacred architecture often inspire, but also featured contemporary angular aspects of my recent research which has started to come through in a more marked way. In a recent article, i have presented a series of simple composition ideas that act like a springboard for my explorations in symmetry. I am now starting to witness how this latter approach is blending with a melodic sensitivity.

This is good progress, and hope to see the technique develop into a smoother method for improvising narratives, free from predictable harmonic movements. At least, this is the aim, and i do play in this freeflow way most of the time. But right now, my fingers are particularly focused on trying things out. I just can’t wait for the time the exercises have sunk in (and the new approach to harmony is finally memorised – which takes a looooong time), and i finally can step away from the practice into a proper freedom of narrative development.


This is really exciting for me as i am developing a sound i like, with a coherent method, achieving freedom of creativity, all without falling into the pit of predictability, the usual jazz clichés and patterns, or going through the motions of playing changes, as is often heard. So the aim remains the quite lofty method of freely developing coherent melodic and harmonic narratives in improvisation.

And my experience of Newby Church was inspiring enough to trigger this modality of playing. The space was allowing for both contemplative moments and free flowing sections. The reverb was rich yet subtle, grand yet intimate, and in the flux of sound that traveled the spiritual space, i could place both fast and slow, single pointed melody and harmonic play, abstract and structured approaches. A well balanced session, and a very liberating experience.

So it was only fitting to once again return to the use of water footage i have filmed recently and use the metaphorical association of waves which when combined create complex forms. Obviously, this applies to both sound and water; and the video acts as a metaphor as it puts both together in a random way, forcing the mind to make associations. And of course, synchronous movements inevitably happen.

At times, the video montage looks like sound and inspiration are crashing and flowing across the space, through me and my instrument. This exactly how such experiences feel to me. So the juxtaposition of the video clips live in the performance space with water abstraction works perfectly.


By now, and having read the previous presentation, the theme that runs through the titles of this triptych will become quite clear a reference to Foucault’s most inspiring work “Les Mots et les Choses” (transl as the Order of Things), with the added layer of meaning taken from the buddhist understanding that forms are empty and therefore highlighting the irony of obsessive taxonomy of empty forms, projected meaning of the modern technological world. Indeed, attachment to forms lead to suffering or rather unsatisfactoriness (dukkha) in the understanding that there is chaos inherent in all compounded things. This association hints for me at the cultural drift towards decorporated abstract thought, symbolism and the virtual, and the dissociation from the experience of reality which starts with Language and a propensity for projection.

Now that i have thrown together Foucault, Saussure, Walter Benjamin, Lacan and Freud all into the same bagful of buddhist teachings, just in the space of one paragraph, let us get literal and on a lighter note. Presenting the light filled Church of Christ the Consoler and musical notes and sounds that it inspired…







as usual you can hear the full audio:

the order of things
alto saxophone, 04 feb 2017
newby church, christ the consoler






contemplating circles
alto saxophone, 04 feb 2017
newby church, christ the consoler







Vipassana as taught by The Mahasi Sayadaw of Burma

26 02 2017

Buddhism now

by Bhante Bodhidhamma

Observing the Breath at the Abdomen

Buddha Rupa Cambodia Photo: ©  Janet NovakWe observe the breath, or rather the sensations caused by breathing, in order to bring a moment-to-moment concentration. This calms the heart-mind because it is a neutral object. There are various places where people feel the sensations of breathing more acutely—at the nostrils or upper lip, at the rising and falling of the chest, and in the abdomen. All of these places are valid in terms of vipassana meditation. The Mahasi, however, favoured the abdomen as a place of observation.

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