sounding out scotland – smoo cave 2017

17 11 2017

 

 

This year’s visit of Scotland continues north. Along a tiny beat up single track road across land we join the round tour of Eribol and its majestic scenery. Soon enough arriving in Durness, the sky heavy and textured, i settle into the place sitting on top of the hill by the bunkhouse. My meditation is sprinkled with a few drops while waiting for the right time to set off. By the time I get to Smoo, it is raining heavily and the amount of water that has fallen this season is reflected in the flow of the cascade in the next chamber. I am surprised by the deafening roar of the waterfall coming through into the main part of the cave and concerned it will take most of the sound away. Still, Smoo cave never disappoints and its cathedral like reverberation shines through the sound of crashing water.

There is a very different vibe here than last time i visited. It is certainly more intense and while i am playing one of the long pieces, i can hear the water fall becoming more present and my playing reflects the chaotic flow. There is still that sweet spot when i stand with my feet right in the little brook in the middle of the cave, that inspires gentle sounds, but overall, this session is flowing stronger as i have to compete with the loudness of the water.

 

On the second day, i return at dusk for another recording and there are still a few visitors wandering in and out even though the light is rapidly dropping. I take a few videos that turned out to be mostly a play of shadows (these will come up in a different post). The dampness hanging in the air makes it more difficult for the saxophone, but i still enjoy playing this amazing space. Among the visits, a couple with an infant who seems to be very alert and interested by the music. As evening falls, the cave gets quieter and i play on for a while reminiscing of a day walking miles to a sandy bay and returning in heavy rain. That night was clear though, and camping on the very coast with the tent facing the great big north was quite something.

 

 

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sitting on a hill
alto saxophone, 24 august 2017
smoo cave, scotland

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alternance 1
alto saxophone, 24 august 2017
smoo cave, scotland

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unyielding
alto saxophone, 24 august 2017
smoo cave, scotland

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turning point
alto saxophone, 24 august 2017
smoo cave, scotland

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as many atoms cascading
alto saxophone, 24 august 2017
smoo cave, scotland

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plato’s play of shadows
alto saxophone, 24 august 2017
smoo cave, scotland

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eddies and rocks
alto saxophone, 25 august 2017
smoo cave, scotland

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short turnover
alto saxophone, 25 august 2017
smoo cave, scotland

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as many stars spinning
alto saxophone, 25 august 2017
smoo cave, scotland

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rain dramatic
alto saxophone, 25 august 2017
smoo cave, scotland

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sounding out scotland – north west coast 2017

19 10 2017

 

 

A visit to Scotland was long due. And this is my favourite area. The trip took us from north west coast sea lines through wild moors and lochs to the very northern point. This post however will focus on a specific section of the western coastline, following the path of the steam train – the jacobites.

The first stop was in Arisaig. A large church towering above the town with a view – tucked between green suburbs and a road out to the sea front.
The very high ceiling and wide open space inside the church made a strong impression and it was like stepping out into space. The slow sound inside was indeed very stilling. A single bell marks a warm welcome and the improvisation flows.
When giving tracks titles, one in particular reminded me of an experience i had nearby meditating on the rocks overlooking the sea. so i chose an image i took that day of a view over to Skye with the sun setting over the calm water.

In the harbour town of Mallaig, i found a shelter from the day for a short exploration of this small church on the edge of town. It was like stepping into the 70’s. Both amusing and welcoming, i felt at home in the cosy carpeted warmth. And nudged into motion by the nearby steam train parked at the station and some building works, i let the saxophone sound out this clear close space.

The next stop was the church at Morar. The place looked cosy, but the vibe of the place was not quite right and the space was not responding. I played for a while but could not get into it, and the sax felt raw. So i did not stay for meditation and instead moved on to a more welcoming location.

For contrast, i returned to Arisaig and bathed in that grand space. After a sweet meditation, i revisited the acoustics. A different day, a different light and still the wonderful immersive stillness was very inspiring.

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first bell
alto saxophone, 22 august 2017
arisaig church

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forest of peaks
alto saxophone, 22 august 2017
arisaig church

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silent silver sea
alto saxophone, 22 august 2017
arisaig church

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open skies
alto saxophone, 22 august 2017
arisaig church

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a gentle descent
alto saxophone, 22 august 2017
arisaig church

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interlude
2.1 hochiku shakuhachi, 22 august 2017
arisaig church

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steamline
alto saxophone, 23 august 2017
mallaig church

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white orbs and billows
alto saxophone, 23 august 2017
mallaig church

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contrary measures
alto saxophone, 23 august 2017
morar church

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counter currents
alto saxophone, 23 august 2017
morar church

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slow rise
alto saxophone, 23 august 2017
arisaig church

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a raft in the other shore
alto saxophone, 23 august 2017
arisaig church

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mixed feelings
alto saxophone, 23 august 2017
arisaig church

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sounding out the lake district 2014

15 11 2014

rydalcathcave2bcathcave1b

 

In a recent visit to the Lake District, i had amazing experiences in two very special locations. Previously, i explored a number of churches in the region, some of them with very interesting quality, and some very inspiring.

However, i have a preference for natural environments. This project started out in the forest, many years ago, and gradually evolved to include other types of landscapes. Caves have always captured my imagination. There is a quality very different to man made environments. It is not just the acoustics, but mostly the feel of the place. And as a consequence, the music it inspires comes out differently.

i have found in the past that certain churches and chapels surprise me in what music they dictate. Some demand reverence. Some are free flowing. From restrained classical to folk and traditional, all the way to full blown trance-like gospel jazz.

One thing that always strikes me is that in a rural setting, and most churches are fairly remote, urban music seems completely out of place. People commented before on the meters i tend to use. As for me, phrasing that is affected, stylised (like jazz swing) and complex signatures or tempo change simply does not feel right. This is all a modern, urban construct. And obviously, buildings that are hundreds of years old simply do not have that kind of energy.

In the case of natural topography and caves, it is again totally different. All sense of style just goes out of the window.
I end up dealing with pure, raw sound.

Caves always have a strong character and the acoustics are a lot more complex due to the quality of reflecting surfaces, and the much more variable volume and shape of the space. Generally, i would expect a cave to inspire something very raw and wild. But i have been very surprised in the past. For example, i had very unique experiences in Scotland, where the gentle stream that runs across Smoo drew the most fragile and mellow tones. See also my first visit to Smoo Cave.

Rydal and Cathedral Caves are part natural, part quarry. They are both surrounded with majestic scenery and have the raw quality i mentioned earlier. And somehow, once i settled into the sound and started playing, both places inspired the most gentle music. At points on the brink of tears.

It felt like, once i had reached the right level – the right mind state and mindfulness, the right volume of playing that is really quiet and barely sounding notes – something clicked. I knew this was right and somehow things ‘slipped’ into place. It is like an inner feeling of sitting down comfortably.
There are no words to describe it. It really is both like settling down and clicking into place. And suddenly things open up. One becomes full of emptiness and the music happens. The flow intensifies as if it has reached the right channel.
The only way i can describe this feeling is with an oxymoron: the intensity of emptiness. There is infinite strength in stillness. It is the power of gentleness.

In Rydal and Cathedral Cave, the strong sound character and unusually long reverberation allowed me to work with harmony: with low tones sustaining through a phrase or chord. And to my surprise, in spite of inclement weather and raw elements, my playing was gently whispered, on the verge of breaking up, intimate and beautiful.

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another day
alto saxophone, 25 oct 2014
cathedral cave, lake district

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in your steps
alto saxophone, 25 oct 2014
cathedral cave, lake district

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couleurs d’automne
alto saxophone, 25 oct 2014
cathedral cave, lake district

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lozanges
alto saxophone, 25 oct 2014
cathedral cave, lake district

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carefree swaying
alto saxophone, 25 oct 2014
cathedral cave, lake district

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melodic drop
alto saxophone, 24 oct 2014
rydal cave, lake district

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wind ripples
alto saxophone, 24 oct 2014
rydal cave, lake district

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sounding out north yorkshire 2014

30 10 2014

a new set of churches in north yorkshire. three different types of architecture. three moods. and it is also the first time i use a saxophone new to me. a yamaha soprano 475 that will prove to sound pretty sweet. and a nice complement to my usual alto explorations.

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the word
alto saxophone, 01 sept 2014
st martins, allerton mauleverer, north yorkshire

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inverted perspective
alto saxophone, 01 sept 2014
st martins, allerton mauleverer, north yorkshire

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last of the summer light
alto saxophone, 01 sept 2014
st martins, allerton mauleverer, north yorkshire

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shades of green
alto saxophone, 01 sept 2014
christ the consoler, newby

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through the thick
alto saxophone, 01 sept 2014
christ the consoler, newby

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growing wings
soprano saxophone, 01 sept 2014
christ the consoler, newby

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third view
alto saxophone, 31 august 2014
holy trinity, coverham

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fractal friction
alto saxophone, 31 august 2014
holy trinity, coverham

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first outing
soprano saxophone, 31 august 2014
holy trinity, coverham

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sounding out the south of england

3 09 2014

with blessings from a blazing summer, sounding out is heading south. this series takes in tors and turbulent skies, the cut out coast of devon, gentle hills and country lanes of dorset in search for formidable locations

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guides for brides
alto saxophone, 08 july 2014
st mary the virgin, compton abbas, dorset

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behind the gate
alto saxophone, 08 july 2014
st mary the virgin, tarrant crowford, dorset

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the faded cross
alto saxophone, 08 july 2014
st mary the virgin, tarrant crowford, dorset

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end of the road
alto saxophone, 08 july 2014
st andrews church, winterborne tomson, dorset

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all beings are winter bourne
alto saxophone, 08 july 2014
st andrews church, winterborne tomson, dorset

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change of scene
alto saxophone, 07 july 2014
st catherine chapel, dorset

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shadowplay
alto saxophone, 07 july 2014
st catherine chapel, dorset

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full of empty space
alto saxophone, 07 july 2014
st catherine chapel, dorset

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shimmers
alto saxophone, 07 july 2014
st catherine chapel, dorset

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the long walk
alto saxophone, 07 july 2014
ilfracombe parish church, devon

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opening
alto saxophone, 07 july 2014
ilfracombe parish church, devon

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verity
alto saxophone, 07 july 2014
ilfracombe parish church, devon

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clearly oscuro
alto saxophone, 06 july 2014
partridge, widmouth farm, devon

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coast lines
alto saxophone, 05 july 2014
berrynarbor church, devon

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outer stone
alto saxophone, 05 july 2014
berrynarbor church, devon

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mystic moors
alto saxophone, 30 june 2014
brentor church, devon

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first impression
alto saxophone, 29 june 2014
torbryan church, devon

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tormented tor
alto saxophone, 29 june 2014
torbryan church, devon

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in between
alto saxophone, 29 june 2014
torbryan church, devon

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sounding out the peak district 2014

19 08 2014

below is a series of recordings which explore areas of the peak district

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split second
alto saxophone, 14 june 2014
ilam church, derbyshire

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for yibo
alto saxophone, 14 june 2014
ilam church, derbyshire

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yibo and the birds
alto saxophone with yibo hu, voice, 14 june 2014
thor’s cave, peak district

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back to base
soprano saxophone, 10 may 2014
st mary’s church, bolsterstone

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tracking shots
soprano saxophone, 10 may 2014
st mary’s church, bolsterstone

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study in blue
alto saxophone, 03 may 2014
st martin’s church, stoney middleton

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closing time
alto saxophone, 03 may 2014
st martin’s church, stoney middleton

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wild orchids
alto saxophone, 03 may 2014
st martin’s church, stoney middleton

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rolling hills
alto saxophone, 29 march 2014
pike watts memorial, ilam church

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setting sun
alto saxophone, 29 march 2014
pike watts memorial, ilam church

watch a video

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sweet solitude
alto saxophone, 29 march 2014
pike watts memorial, ilam church

watch a video

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blossoms
alto saxophone, 29 march 2014
pike watts memorial, ilam church

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night train
alto saxophone, 29 march 2014
pike watts memorial, ilam church

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sounding out the lake district

19 08 2014

during a marathon visit to the lake district, i recorded in many locations, sometimes exploring several churches and chapels in one day. here are some of my favourite sites.

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hollow stone
alto saxophone, 12 feb 2014
st michael and all angels church, hawkshead

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high winds
alto saxophone, 10 feb 2014
st martin’s old church, martindale

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white peaks
alto saxophone, 10 feb 2014
st peter’s church, martindale

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