I'm sitting here, coffee in hand, watching the sun try to force its way through the rain, musing about the weather which is very visible from my house on the hill ... and suddenly I remember that my album, VIRR, is out today!
I've been really excited about this for a while now. It was such a spontaneous decision to start recording it. One day, Juhani simply suggested: "Shall we go to the studio and record something?". I didn't have my fiddle with me, but the viola was sitting in his studio, so I went and sat and improvised.
When we came out of the studio, I was so excited! The music felt so 100% 'me', so genuine. Not thought out, prepared, rehearsed, worked on, researched, learnt, teased about at the edges. Rather, it was completely direct, totally unadulterated.
For an improvising musician, this is a normal experience to one degree or other. For a trad player, this sense of freedom is normally experienced through the medium of a tune, something pre-existing that you find your form of expression via. Perhaps you improvise around it or away from it, perhaps you wrote it, but no matter how far you deviate from the tune, it is always there in some form even if only as shadow in the back of the mind that you can call on, or refer to, should you wish.
Over the course of a couple of weeks, I would pop into Juhani's studio for an hour or two and sit and improvise, drink tea and blether. The least stressful recording perhaps ever? (Not that recording is normally something I experience as stressful - I love it.)
The theme that emerged through the process was Scots weather-related words that originate from Old Norse. I love language. Two of my hobbies are sitting puzzling over cryptic crosswords and reading dictionaries, my favourite being The Scots Dictionary.
Being Scottish living in Norway, it makes sense that Scots words which are etymologically Norse should be of particular interest. These words I chose for the titles are so vivid you can almost see or feel them, ie MIRR - the shimmering of the light on a hot day … KATRISPER - wind that is so sharp it feels like a cat scratching you … ouch!
This album is essentially about my deep love of sound. And also about acceptance. Too often (for my soul at least), music is thought of in terms of melody, rhythm, harmony, structure. With regards to sound, the ideal in the strings world, whatever the genre, tends to be that it should be beautiful, rounded, full, warm, ie 'safe'. But the weather isn't always warm and safe. Neither are emotions. We have to simply accept and respect that.
This album is sound for sound's sake. Expression for expression's sake. Energy for energy's sake. An acceptance of everything, no judgement attached. When the wind (physical or metaphysical) is blowing a howling gale, that is simply what is happening. We may not like it, or we may be completely energised and enlivened by it. Some worship the sun, some get burnt by it. It doesn't care; it just is. This album is energy through sound. Just a simple fact. With no attempt to please or displease, neither myself nor others.
Merchants of Air reviewed VIRR last week and struggled to categorise it, highlighting the point that music nowadays needs to be able to fit into neat boxes in this commercial world of advertising which views people as potentially malleable statistics:
"...ranging from avant garde classical music over eerie folk to harsh, intense outbursts of free jazz, all created by fiddle and viola... But in the end, the most difficult question is, "who to recommend this album to?". Perhaps fans of experimental classical music will enjoy this and free jazz aficionados too. Ambient fans might find it a bit too abrasive at times but most of these songs are perfect ambient-remix material. In any case, this is a unique album, something definitely worth checking out."
I'm grateful that I play an instrument which is strung with such incredible tension that it is capable of transferring - of magnifying - my every conscious and subconscious vibration. I am reminded of this:
"The violin is a ruthlessly honest seismograph of the heart. Four strings stretched over the bridge put sixty-five pounds of pressure on the wooden sounding chamber; this stored energy amplifies every nuance of weight, balance, friction, and muscle tone as the musician draws the bow over the string. Each tremor and movement reflects the musician's minutest unconscious impulse. There is nothing hidden with the violin - it is like mathematics in that respect; pretense is impossible. The sound coming out of that instrument is a sensitive lie detector, a sensitive truth detector." (From 'Free Play, Improvisation in Life and Art' by Stephen Nachmanovitch)
And this brings my mind back to the power of the weather and then back to my album, VIRR, which is out today!
I'm super grateful to Juhani for recording, producing and mixing VIRR and Helge Sten for mastering it. Also to Juhani for setting up this wonderful (yes, I'm biased) label, Eighth Nerve Audio, whose genre-free, commercial-free remit enabled me to be brave enough to do something I'm sure the vast majority will not embrace.
By the way, the image on the front cover is a photo of mine, my face and orange coat reflected in ice with methane bubbles trapped inside.
I would be delighted if you would sit with a coffee, a cup of tea, a glass of red or whatever your thing is and have a wee listen and also ponder the power of the weather.