Tuesday, December 23, 2014

When I was alone. And then suddenly more alone. Reflections on Derek Bailey. And playing with quanta..

Derek Bailey remains, remained, something of a myth, one of those great legendary figures, a basilica on a gigantic toadstool outside of time, titanic Hendrix or faustian devil-may-care Robert Johnson or Manitas de Plata cross-eyed by Webern, even while he, the good Derek of Sheffield, was yet breathing among us, even  -- after I had met players like Jack Wright & Daniel Carter, Oxley, Parker -- and started to learn that musicians were (some of them, anyway) approachable human beings. But I never approached Derek Bailey, despite his tremendous influence on my life. After listening to him on tht album with Braxton I felt the game-change. Back in the rehearsal space, I tried to depress notes with my toes, to bend feedback without touching strings, to avoid "scales", to interfere with and otherwise try to get different sounds address another order of disorder.

 I entered "the game" a bit late in life-- but there were certain tectonic shifts in the aesthetics (and therefore the politics) of the younger musicians, when lower-case, onkyo (as quiet school) berlin reduction, london silence, the fresh and ascendant blooms --- it also seems clear that of these many players, he impressed a few of them who later wanted perhaps to get over this influence and establish new musical identities & explore another vocabulary, rather famously Taku Sugimoto's distancing from Derek after what appeared to have been some happy years. That Derek's playing might have become symbolic of the fast-paced, bristly and busy, grand-central-station-on-fire-alert school of super-chops improv sqwonk is however for my own sense of things almost un-noticeable, without severe import, because he was after all a master of great compressed silences that he fit into, that gapped, the space, between as on the album with Music Improvisation Company,1970 where I just had to start thinking differently again. Which brings me to the day that Derek died, 9 years ago, when I was in Berlin, on Christmas Day, when I was alone. And then suddenly more alone. More alone than ever because alone in Berlin. I read the news. I closed the web-browser. I went to the guitar on the table and picked up a violin bow, pressed record, and started a great throbbing drone chord that tapered and thinned as I bowed back and forth gently detuning until the sound ultimately dissipated into vapor. When I returned from my trance, I looked at the time-line and saw 59 minutes had elapsed. And I had had no idea what had happened.  Ritual prayer for his travels through the chiasmos of the bardo. Or any better opportunity.  

 Derek Bailey weighs in, at least for me, as one who plays the guitar both vertically and horizontally, all the time, deconstructing and re-membering, and his manipulations did involve almost every imaginable creative abuse (aka extended technique) of the instrument and about the only thing he didn't do a great deal of remains in the field of protracted buzz blanket click drone and Tammenesque processing, for which the guitar on the table seems quite logically placed. 

There are perhaps also, I must admit, many things that I imagined that Derek must have done first and better because, as I said, he's partly a myth and some the sounds I thought he made were something else entirely not his fault (maybe-- those squeaks, string rubbings, percussivities). Mythical beings have the capacity to do things most other people can't do but they also are the site for the projections of the polymorphic magma inside our psyche. So, every once in a while, when I'm playing, entering into some kind of deja vu (as when you look at you hands and see them acting almost without thought-control), I stop myself and I say, ah, that's something Derek would do. But I am never actually sure he did anything even remotely like that. In this sense, however, Derek was always playing with quanta, has always been right by my side. Like my fingers' fingers. Perhaps always will be. Until I'm too late, one day. 

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