Making work that combined both a visual influence and a written narrative is an idea that John Berger really woke me up to. In his book ‘The Seventh Man’, Berger used the separate worlds that the image and the written word occupy to convey his work across both plains.
It’s something that my partner and I have picked up and try to explore in our own work. Working together, we visit spaces and disseminate our feelings through our chosen mediums, putting together this work to create one unified object.
While it’s something that digital journalism hasn’t quite been able to crack yet, we’d like to find more ways of delivering this kind of work. So far we’ve explored these projects over two pieces with the music website, The Line Of Best Fit.
Going to see Stars Of The Lid together was a big moment for us. Thinking about how we wanted to explore the states ambient music unlocks in us. Seeing Stars Of The Lid is more an experience in breathing and thinking – opening your mind up to an illusory experience, much in the same way you might get in an art gallery or at a meditation session.
Ambient music can often be quite a personal thing to listen to. It isn’t necessarily social music. The state we go into when we listen to ambient music is quite unlike that of most other musical forms. We wanted to reflect on this a little in making this piece.
Ambient music can often be a personal experience, something that works on you internally rather than being something immediately enjoyable. It’s what people talk about when they talk about the ‘sonic’ feeling of music – the esoteric in between feeling something physical and being mentally awakened. The great satisfaction of it lying in the places it can take you, or the ideas it can draw out.
Together, we sat down and thought through what ambient music means to us.
Each instrument has its place yet moves backwards and forwards from the tune to the under arching notes. The deeper notes underneath everything build and waver, allowing other textures to come through as they drift. Together these smaller strokes come together to form a larger more complex picture. Each component is dependent on the other. You can either look at it as one whole image, the overview and the atmosphere or you can read the different strokes and pick apart the layers.
Many of our friends listen to ambient music to help with anxiety, using it as a form of meditation. It’s music for being on your own too – reflecting with, finding the small personal space it creates and finding safety in it. For us, seeing the spaces between the audience and the music, the collective and the individual proved to be as fascinating as finding our own experiences alone. Physically we felt a room of people in tune with both their individual and collective selves.
Ambient music is often associated with quietness. And yet, at so many moments did Stars of The Lid bridge on the overwhelming filling the Barbican completely. What was captivating was seeing the trance-like experience music this large could draw you into – feeling both the physical and esoteric presence of the music itself.
For the last year, I’ve been exploring how a new wave of jazz musicians are changing the attitudes behind the genre.
As the message of the music has been handed to younger musicians, its principles have shifted too. Jazz music is beginning to become party music again, music that makes us dance, into which we unfold new shapes. The academic shades of jazz music are disappearing, replaced by a respect for concentration and liberation. This separation of nu-school jazz has been seen to be an underground movement, a movement of jazz music from the ground up.
Visiting the Olso Jazz in 2017 seemed like the perfect opportunity to explore this idea more. Taking a festival that is historic and prolific in its country, and examining it under a lens.
We wanted to look at the types of images this music could evoke. The kinds of sounds and sensory triggers that hit us when we reach for the pen.
What we ended up with was an essay exploring changing ideas, changing sounds, and the more philosophical dimensions that jazz can evoke to create powerful frictions to a conformist society.
“Some fight because they hate what confronts them, others because they have taken the measure of their lives and wish to give meaning to their existence.” – John Berger, 1978
“I wonder how pertinent this is to musicians just bringing into the field now. Whether the music they make is one of industry or music that is inherently there to challenge the assumption of the assumed hierarchies in jazz. It’s something we find a lot of the musicians reflecting on during the weekend, the most profound of which, we find in an understated group of musicians, called Dr Kay and his Interstellar Tone Scientists.
Building on the work and influence of Sun Ra, the band started out as a Pharaoh Sanders and Sun Ra cover band. But as they’ve grown, their take and understanding of jazz is something that has become a direct part of their performances. Not only do they throw out any ideas that jazz should be hierarchical, but they play to challenge any assumption that jazz should be music should be an activity to stroke your chin too.
“How can music travel through the universe without air, without an atmosphere? Do I fill your head with astral questions that do not have answers? I am Dr. Kay, astral traveller, and devout believer in the idea of spiritual unity through music,” Dr. Kay says, challenging us. They push fun back into the picture. It’s what confounds so many of the young musicians here. Not all of them. But for most, their sets are about challenging the assumption of hierarchies within the music, aiming to deconstruct the social conventions of jazz music, through their playing.
It feels as if this renaissance in jazz music is just settling here. But the taken aback feeling felt by so many of the younger artists, when they are received so warmly is gratifying. The hope is that the exposure of these artists will spread the social ideas in which they share their music, further into the consciousness.I feel we are starting to see a change in the way jazz is received and listened to, and I argue that this is for the better for the genre.
“It’s clear that this new audience has no preconceptions about jazz, roaring on solos and sweating on the dance floor in a way hardly seen since the 1980s,” said one reviewer, from Jazz wise Magazine, writing about another of Norway’s leading jazz festivals.
Before us, we are seeing a generation of icons being made. Their playing is charged, fun, holistic, and contributes to a positive mindset for the genre. The challenge now will be for how best to support so much young talent.”
Images © Hannah Burrough, 2017