Why do I want to participate?
I work with words and with music, and I am fascinated with the coincidental music that arises when we shift our attention and listen to the world around us from a new perspective.
The Noise Challenges have been an prompt to listen more closely to the sounds around me, and in many cases to record them. But the act of recording – no matter how well intentioned – has always felt slightly parasitic. Perhaps that’s too strong a word, perhaps ecouteristic (rather than voyeuristic) would be closer. Certainly it involves me attending to the unwitting “performances” of individuals and objects and nature, and passing that experience through the prism of what I feel and know.
This challenge was a chance to create some noise myself, maybe even an inadvertent “performance”, and not to watch, listen and record, but to let someone else do the responding. So I did something I haven’t done for nearly 30 years, something I last did on the London Underground. I busked.
There are several well-recognised busking pitches in town, and I didn’t want to damage anyone’s income, so I chose three other locations, all slightly removed from traffic but not from footfall, and sat down and played. I even used the same guitar I busked with before. I wasn’t busking for money this time, though, so my case stayed shut and there was no cap on the floor. Instead, I received:
* 2 thumbs ups
* 4 nods of approval
* 1 small dance
* many, many smiles
* several interesting conversations
* 1 biscuit (slightly dribbled on – I said I would eat it later, but I didn’t)
* some advice
* 2 compliments
* and slight sunburn on my forehead and nose
I felt well rewarded.
I also made a point of improvising throughout. Sometimes the best way to create something is just to start, and the Noise Challenges have been a great spur to do this. I often felt I didn’t have time to do them, or do them justice, but I did them anyway and was glad afterwards. I’ve enjoyed participating and I’ve enjoyed the other creations, many of them utterly unexpected.
I might even go busking again.
If one thing characterises this place I live in, it’s sheer bloodymindedness. After all, this in Sussex, where “We wunt be druv” is an unofficial motto. So it’s no surprise that Lewesians take a deal of pride in the fact that Tom Paine lived here for some years, and the debating society he joined, the Headstrong Club, was restarted some years ago. Thanks to the Tom Paine Printing Press, it’s not uncommon to see his sayings stuck up in front windows as posters.
Yes, Paine and Independence (and Bonfire). That just about sums up this place.
And the sound? The sound of argument, of striving for equity and truth, of protest and celebration and singing.
I’d say he is a man whose time (if it ever went away) has come again:
“Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”
On the surface, you could sum me up with a sneeze, a snore, a throat clearing and a mumbled joke. It wouldn’t tell you very much, though.
What really sums me up is my guitar. This is a piece I wrote nearly 30 years ago. It’s a slightly shortened version I recorded at my kitchen table one morning this week, playing the guitar I got for my 18th birthday. The guitar has had its fair share of dings and could use a bit of renovation and some spare parts, but it’s still my favourite and I wouldn’t be parted from it. The piece was originally part of a triptych for a dance company.
The cue, the cues! There are just so many.
I thought about the multitude of e-prompts that beset our online lives, the behavioural prompts that our societies drape around us, the “persuasive” hints that infuse so much audiovisual communication.
Many of the cues turned out to be interruptions rather than productive prompts. So in the end, I choose a cue that is a recent addition, and has been a nudge in the right direction. So the musical snippet below is derived from the letters of the phrase “Noise Challenge”. Rather than record it, here is the score, itself a cue to make some noise. All together now…
As luck would have it, there’s somewhere called Earwig Corner near here. And, here in the UK at any rate, “earwigging” is another word for eavesdropping. So this challenge was right up my street.
And, boy, do I love to earwig. It’s the writer in me, I suppose. I’m interested in other people, in their stories. I’m interested in who they are and what’s going on in their lives. And then I’m also fascinated by the language they use and their tone of voice. That’ll be the thesp in me.
For the most part, my earwigging is non-interventionist and harmless. I’m not a spy, just curious. For the most part, everything I hear is entirely mundane and washes in and out of my brain, leaving nothing behind except a tide mark – a general impression of how everyone is. For the most part…
This week the barometer of the populace read “unsettled”, with a side helping of “disconnected”.
For us northern-hemispherers, it’s spring now. More or less. The sunlight is warm, the air is crystal clear, but the evenings and the shade are still cool. It’s as if we can’t quite believe the winter is behind us, and so there’s a sense of diffuse but cautious hope in the air.
I listened to a 2-part Invention by JS Bach for a day. Having heard it so often, I could no longer hear it, so I turned the music upside down, back to front and generally rebuilt it in a new form. It’s now the first half of a prelude. Enjoy!
Almost every day I walk past – or through – an empty space without thinking twice about it. The gatehouse of Lewes Castle, the barbican, is a place where nothing happens. There are rooms inside it, and people pass through with their buggies, their shopping, their dogs, but nothing much happens in the space itself, and it’s no longer a gateway, just an imposing and slightly out of place thoroughfare. I repopulated it briefly with some music, a Galliard by Francis Cutting.
The floorboards in the corridor outside my studio are old and creaky. As I sit here I occasionally hear the door at the end of the corridor open and then – footsteps. A visitor? A delivery? For me? Or maybe just a passer-by. Fast steps, slow steps, children scampering, dogs’ claws sclattering. Occasionally, someone is lost, reading the signs on the doors, or someone stops and takes a call on their mobile, oblivious to their eavesdropper.
Mostly, no one comes and no goes. But when they do, the noise connects me to the building and the wider world. By and large, I don’t register it at all, yet the tiny cycle of recognition, expectation, analysis and farewell provides an emotional ripple as I drift through my working day.
The traffic circulates (in the rain today) but although it runs through Lewes, it is not part of it. It is people that make a place, and everywhere seems to serve coffee. The heart of Lewes, though, is making things, and the bandsaw of the guitar makers is a distinctive sound. Beneath it all runs the pulse, composed of all the sounds together.