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  • Writer's pictureJamie McCarthy

Com-position Diary (09.08.18) - 'Refuge' and 'As We Await the Return of the Light'.

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

9th August 2018.

Working on ‘Refuge’ today and ‘As We Await’ yesterday. This week has been both a trial and a reward. I’ve had the time to really concentrate on the detail of these two pieces. I thought I’d have them both finished in a couple of days, but once I got back to them after a long break I realised quite how much they were still in sketch form.

With Refuge in particular, each time I do a round of sculpting it’s only to reveal a who other degree of sculpting to be done. I scrape away the layers and the possibilities of what lies underneath reveal themselves.

It’s taken me two days to slow down enough to be at the pace that writing this kind of music needs. I was really resisting it at first and only just now am I really appreciating the meditative nature of listening and re-listening that this scale and pace of putting something together needs.

I change something somewhere – some little cell or some placing, some balance and it affects something later. I have to listen to long stretches to know whether and how things are working.

It’s been so hot for weeks now and finally the rain and the cool have arrived as I listen and I type. How lovely to see it raining through the window, to feel the cool and see the greyness of an English sky.

Having to be reminded that simply working brings results.

Make a container. Put something in it.

Let the meeting of the contents and the container give birth and shape to something.

Listen – observe - be with - don’t impose too much.

Observe what it’s suggesting it wants to be.

Try and serve it.

Finds ways to hear it sideways rather than head-on.

Catch yourself with it unawares and yet be sort of aware of it. That’s how it needs to reveal itself to you sometimes.

At other times it needs detailed, craft-like direct scrutiny and care.

Pulling focus in and out.

Take some of the things you’ve revealed.

Put them together in a larger container and repeat the process.

I’ve actually found it quite hard without having an external demand to produce something for something by a certain time. I guess my decision to release a new album has done that, but I also realise I rely quite heavily on other people’s subjects / shapes / ideas to make me do something. I think I need in future, to imagine some ‘containers’ of that kind for myself.

The rain has stopped.

Coming back to it, coming, back to it again, coming back to it again ….

Getting some distance and coming back to it again.

At times I’ve had a bit of the ‘is it worth it’? ‘Will it be good enough?’ thoughts.

I just can’t allow myself to entertain those ‘good enough’ thoughts. Nothing comes out of that kind of thinking. Either do or don’t do.

Is it worth it?

This question seems to come out of a utility position. Will it be of any use? Will it make me any money or further my reputation? These questions too, are of no use to me right now. It’s worth it as an activity in itself. It is an act of care, attention and love. It does me good. If I instrumentalise then I miss the point and it will be reflected in the work.

I started Refuge and As We Await with randomised processes to create chords or layers of string pitches. With Refuge I have placed them against some more chord-progression-ish time stretched / pitch-shifted Korg arpeggiator sounds. At times I have felt like starting from a random place and combining with this kind of material is just doomed to failure. Why would I give myself such a hard time in puzzling this out? And then moments begin to reveal themselves – things that I could never have dreamed of that could only come out of this type of process. They are simple and obvious in the end – once I’ve sculpted and distilled – but I believe they end up being simple and obvious in a way that is not like any other simple and obvious things. This is because the final sounds come from the meeting of the container, the different contents and me. In paying attention to how these elements meet each other I am allowing them to become (one version) of what they can be.

Putting elements in a container or frame together. Noticing contours and shapes that arise. Sculpting to reveal them a little more and another layer of contours and shapes reveal themselves.

Refuge was originally called Basilisk, because I’d been thinking of William Basinski’s tape loop pieces, although I think it’s turned out to be something quite different to those. In the end it’s turned out like a weird slowed-down version of ‘In C’ mixed with one of Riley’s organ improvisations.

Still wanting to make music that’s like weather. Refuge feels like weather at sea – the surging, the changes of light, the calms and disturbances. There is also a feel of being no land being in sight.

Of course, the title Refuge relates to refuges who have crossed and the many who have died when trying to cross the Mediterranean. I wouldn’t want to labour it too much … how could I know what such a journey feels like? How could anything as slight as a piece of music compare to such an experience? But still ... the image has been my mind as I work on it.

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