Well, the corridor is full of boxes of The Golden Periphery CDs ready to find homes or gather dust. First batch of them have been posted – band members and preorders now on their way. So time for a little reflection on the project I think.
It’s been a fairly lengthy journey to get from idea to finished product by my usual standards. It took around 7 months in total – I know that’s nothing in corporate dinosaur land, where years can disappear easily, but for me it was an ‘epic’ journey.
The original concept is something I’ve been thinking about for a few years, more and more so with playing alongside some of the most amazing, creative musicians I know. I wanted to marry my solo electronic work as Clutter with the improv world in a way that doesn’t dilute either but makes something that builds on the other. I also was interested in working within a large ensemble context, how to get your ideas over to people without changing what they are about, how to work through ideas….. How to pay for it?
The first concrete steps were taken as a New Voice composer with Sound and Music and a small bursary towards marketing myself. Not enough to pay for a batch of CDs in itself, but just over halfway there so well worth getting some pressed as a ‘calling card’ for the future – and some sales along the way, fingers crossed….
On to putting the band together…. With no money to spend on musicians, being fairly isolated in Cumbria and a pretty hectic work schedule I decided the best way of working would be the DIY standby of the Internet. Many folk complain about the internet for various reasons, lack of privacy, streaming killing music, etc etc. there’s many a late night discussion to be had there, but for networking and building relationships it is a fantastic tool. I have done various remix projects working online before, so I thought it would work to write an album this way. File sharing is common practice now, most people have some form of recording facility, even if it’s just their phone. Methodology sorted then, nearly.
To get the ball rolling I recorded around 4 hours of solo improvisations using an iPad, keeping it minimal and trying to play to allow space for others. The 4 hours was edited down to ‘tracks’ – around 2.5 hours worth that I was fairly happy with. I uploaded these to Dropbox and Google Drive and started putting the call out for people to play along. To keep it very open and as an interesting aside I decided to not let anyone hear anything but my bits, as work was sent in I collected it and left it aside till after the first deadline. I think this was a little unconventional to many of the more traditional musicians that had expressed an interest in the project. It seemed to scare many off, others were unsure what to do with an open brief. Some remixed the work, others processed it, others had long email conversations about what to do. Others just played. An interesting mixture of players just got it, they just improvised along, sent in multiple recordings, all very good stuff.
It was very reassuring that by the time of the first deadline I had enough amazing things sent to me that I was sure it would pull together. It very easily could have collapsed completely into the worst kind of concept album, my King Arthur on ice moment, or maybe Stockhausen on ice? But thanks to knowing some bloody amazing musicians it actually sounded pretty great. I was also pleased that poet Ann Wilson sent in some recorded poetry – some of her best work to date I must say! – this started to pull the whole thing together, gave it a sense of narrative.
Once I edited and did a rough mix of the tracks they were again uploaded for the ‘overdubs’ – when you could hear what else was going on, it was sounding a little too full sound wise, but I didn’t want to limited the results just yet so left everything in. Many lovely parts were sent in on this second round, the total number of people involved now numbered over 30. The editing just before the overdubs had paired the work down to around 100 minutes.
Now the hard part, to edit and mix everything and to get it all to fit on a CD. Ann’s poetry helped focus things, then with another stroke of luck the artist Ruth Green agreed to do some original art for the project. The work Ruth did was just perfect – a unicorn for the front and a cat and dog trying to be unicorns for a logo.
This again gave the concept real focus – yes, it had become a concept album by this point! That we can all become unicorn – that we all possess our own magic. I listened to the tracks for a couple of weeks in the car and the office seeing what parts of the music felt strongest, what wasn’t working so well, starting to try track orders out. By the time I sat down to start the editing and mixing I had a very firm idea of the feel of the album, so it came together quickly. Starting each track with the core instruments I’d identified, making sure they fitted, then fitting the rest around – chopping bits out, getting the balance and dynamics working.
The next step was putting the tracks down ready for CD, trimming things to get it all under 74 minutes. Then the start of mastering – I was hoping to pay for this to be done but I just couldn’t afford it so I read up a little more, and just started twiddling. After a while stop, burn to CD and listen on a few systems, then back to mastering. This took a while but by the time I sent everything off to the pressing plant I was very happy with the results – and now I have the finished article back I am really excited and pleased with the results. So was it all worth it?
The answer is a huge yes. For a project to involve over 30 people and not a flash of chest beating or ego on show, everyone pitched in at the level they wanted, some did more than others, but all seemed like they felt an equal part, had enough ownership of the project to be happy. For just this reason it was a success, what started as an experiment on the borders of composition and improvisation ended with a pretty great social experiment. A community formed, it’s members worked towards a shared goal, with equal standing and achieved something that they couldn’t have made on their own. This gives hope and credence to the idea of society being able to function in much better ways than the corporate greed that surrounds us. I will hold this project up as a way forward in many respects, that giving people a voice and treating them with respect empowers everyone.
And musically? The finished album is something I’m very pleased with, it has some of the best music I’ve ever been involved in on it. Some passages I can’t quite believe are something to do with me. We will see if that’s still true further down the line. Either way it is a very good album, I had great fun making it with everyone and getting to know some more great thinkers and players. Here’s to the next one…. This will hopefully be sometime in 2015 with a recording session or two in the room together and some live dates…. The unicorn journey is just beginning!
So all that is left is to thank everyone involved in the project, from the staff at Sound and Music, all the musicians, writers and artists that have helped along the way.
We did good, and we got us some glitter, if only for a moment.