I’ve been talking to Stephen Preston, Baroque flautist and improvising musician, about a piece for his ensemble, Trio Aporia. When we met recently for a pint, which neither of us was supposed to be drinking, we had a too-short conversation full of sparky ideas and good humour. I love this free association of ideas in the early stages of a commission, where both parties throw a load of ideas at a wall, and see what sticks. Stephen and I are both keen on a collaborative approach to the piece, and I thought it would be interesting to record the development process here.
Actually, we almost immediately centred on an idea connected with silence and listening. A couple of years ago, some friends took us to the Quaker meeting one spring Sunday at Brigflatts, one of the oldest Quaker meeting houses in the world. It was not far from here that George Fox preached to a thousand souls in 1652. Although I’m not a Quaker, I have aways been attracted to their form of worship. I think, as a musician, their sensitivity to the power of silence to signify and reveal resonates with my own lived experience.
When sitting in silence, time passes differently. Our attention wanders, then, if we’re lucky, it centres for a while. Time seems to slow down, then to fly by in seemingly unpredictable ways. Perhaps in the absence of stimulation we are forced only to experience the ‘felt time’ of our subjective experience (Henri Bergson)
. A bird’s song outside seems significant, clear. Our stomach complains. Our neighbour shifts in their seat. The wooden bench feels hard, then we forget it.
The first step is to record the ‘silence’ of the meeting house – background ‘noise’ and all – and use this as the basis of a series of improvisations without he ensemble. I don’t know yet what these will consist of. But there’s something appealing to me in the confrontation of the recording equipment – with its mechanical clock-time – and the felt time of our subjectivity.