Spiral Compositions

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Started work on a few drawings after having not really done any drawing work for quite a few months. This began just trying to start out with one of the simplest shapes and one of the first recorded marks by mankind: theres spirals all over prehistoric stuff. Also it tied in with some of the ideas relating to microtonality or true tonality or Just Intonation; whichever you want to call it: that  the circle of 5ths actually being a spiral due to tiny differences in frequency as you add up.

Also wandered about the possiblities of using spirals in graphic scores: a great shape to describe shape, mass and weight as well as giving an impression of length, could be combined with boxes and shapes as potential time indicators too.

Currently Im also figuring out some actual practical applications of whole tone ratios for the guitar. After a summer reading up on the ideas of Harry Partch and Just Intonation and being slightly bemused but very excited about the theoritical possiblities I finally realised a bit of simple maths, a ruler and a glass slide was all I needed to actual make it practically relevant with the guitar.

Im going to put a longer post explaining all this in a lot more detail once I feel like ive totally got to grips with it!

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Kalbakken in a field in Levenshulme

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Summertime a few years ago I think, at the Klondyke in Levenshulme supporting Lianne Hall and Drei. Was such a charming June evening we decided to play out in what passes for a wild flower meadow in Lev. From what I recall there was only one incident with a passing car; there was also an audience, sadly out of shot, I suspect we’re probably trying to interact with them in the middle shot.

In the final one im playing my esraj, its only live outing so far. You can hear it on the Kalbakken record though, track 9 I think.

Thanks to Bela for the photos and Daz for lending me his lovely Taylor guitar you can see in the first two pictures.

More anarchosyndicalist bike aktion

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All photos by Helen Brealey
All photos by Helen Brealey

Some snaps above of our ongoing bicycle based horrorshow live at Islington Mill in Salford last night. Show was notable for my nearly totalling all of the bike based instrument sculptures with my first physical gesture of the set.

Disaster was narrowly avoided via some careful cable wiggling and shouts of “Youve ruined Christmas now Jimmy” from the more lively parts of the audience. Managed to lay down some good grooves though eventually; mostly informed by the rhythmic memory of Huw’s 90s reggae tape that we had on repeat in the Volvo on the way over. You can’t make this stuff up.

Bike Orchestra wise we’re playing on the Thursday 29th of October as part of the Vaudeville night at the Greenroom in Manchester. We will be in the studio with the talented and brave Joshua Kopecek in the next few weeks and hopefully this session will produce material for a download and CDR release on Manchester’s Concrete Moniker and a tape split on Ikuisuus.

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Manchester Ship Canal

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Picture taken heading from Trafford Bridge towards the Lowry along the promenade on my way to rehearsal last night with Ad Hoc dance. There’s a lot of incredible open views in that part of town; the expanse of water pushes the horizon way further out. Im not surewhat it’s like in the day time but theres a real desolate end of the world feel at night.These long quaysides totally devoid of people, only the scale gives a hint to the original purpose and labours of the place.

With the music im writing with Ad Hoc ive been trying to isolate fragments from improvising along with the dancers as they put the piece together and then to use this as a more solid base for improvising out of. Refining and refining. Guitar is tuned to D/A/D/Fsharp/A/D Some notes below:

  • Paintbrush (point 5) under 9th fret playing on either side with left and right hands. So right hand pulls out rhythmic pulses and some rhythm from guitar body. Left pulls on strings behind brush on guitar neck, can also fret some notes here to produce really clipped chimes.
  • Guitar flat in lap brush end 12th fret; percussion on front and sides played with hands and soft mallet; totally open rhythms; timing in response to dancers; they all have individual moves at this point; really open and improvised.
  • Sparse slide guitar around the words “aching, arching, anchoring” and their connotations. Added words form dancers own personal writing.
  • Piece in Em7 and pulling to D for a duet. Really flows in a welcome energetic way; as with flamenco. This is interspersed with slowly, gentle, mournful passages of making sadness, waking up and remembering the flow from before.
  • Interaction of rhythm and movement; not so much finding pulses but watching to find peoples place and individual timing. There’s something with the brain and juxaposition so you start seeing patterns and making sense of whatevers happening?

Performance is on 9th November at the Lowry Studio theatre.

Booker White

Been following up a long standing interest in why acoustic guitars are so quiet when compared to other instruments of a similar body sized (the cello being the obvious example). This orginally came about at kalbakken practise when we noticed just how much louder Kirsty’s violin could be at full pelt compared to my guitar, which considering the different volume of the sound boxes seemed pretty wild.

It seems to be something to do with that alot of very careful design and consideration has gone into the exact shape of the body of the violin to create natural resonaonces which produce a bigger sound; also a bowed instrument is louder due to the nature of the sustain.

All this to lead me to look at the design of most acoustic guitars today; flat back and front, round sound hole, which is relatively inefficient as a means of projecting sound but appears to be the most usual design. With this in mind I started looking at the possibilities of archtop guitars which maintain some of the features of the violin/cello style in the angled back and sides and f sound holes; as luck would have it Ive ended up with a lovely framus archtop fromt he 60s on loan from Pascal which sounds great.

Eventually as i continued thinking around what other possiblities of guitar design there were it struck me: the amazing metal resonators used by blues players. The potential for volume and sustain could be incredible. A quick scrabble around the web and what do i find? The video above of Booker White playing resonator. Seriously, he does more in the first 30 seconds of this video than most musicians could ever hope to….

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Live Levenshulme Bicycle Orchestra Action!

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The group operates in an as yet undefined area between intuaitive ritualised musical theatrical performance and shared collective improvising around musical and lyrical themes developed by all members of the group. There are various aims and objectives.

To function as an accepted method of therapy for members to express and explore ideas and behaviours in forms that would be unacceptable outside the realms of performance.

As a theoretical machinery that allows the musicians and audience to interrogate their own ideas of the boundaries and interrelations between sound, music, tone, vibration, movement, theatre, performance, spectacle, art, and catharsis.

As an ongoing process of instrument building, adaptation and reclaimation from that which is not specifically an instrument but with which sound can be made. This use of scrap, discarded and recycled objects rebuilt as instruments locates a utilitarian power with the players and for anyone who wants to imagine and construct their own instruments.

See more here and also here.

Kalbakken Tour Diary

design by Kev Craig
design by Kev Craig

3 & 4 & 5/8/09 Skipton

Nick & Kirsty hard at work
Nick & Kirsty hard at work

We’re holed up at Nick’s folks house on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors running through old material and working on a new arrangement from scratch to be recorded next weekend with Jack in London.

Radiant sunshine keeps giving us the impression that the label may have accidentally sent us ot the south of France…

6/8/09 Cambridge

Nick is sustained by constant intake of coffee and dates...
Nick being the sole driver requires a constant imput of coffee and dates...

I’m reading bits from Oliver Sacks ‘Musicophilia’ and navigating on the journey which is all on the A1 from Skipton, a road I never really knew about previously. There is some trepidation as our past touring partner and general navigator Dan Bridgwood Hill is tied up with work and not present so we are relying on a satnav and an A to Z, rather than his stoic and zenlike presence.

First serious discussions of educational theory and practise erupts. Paulo Freire leads to all kind if places…This kind of thing, as well as debates about the exact meaning of the word “esoteric” and what it may point towards, are usually our main talking points on the road. Rest of the time the conversation is usually completely infantile and debased with a shared vocabulary of 150 words and body sounds.

Paulo Freire author of 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed'
Paulo Freire author of 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed'

The gig is in a bookshop come café bar ran by real Italians who tell Kirsty her voice is “BELLA“ in no indistinct terms. People wear flat caps and tweeds jackets unironically in Cambridge and climb on bicycles and ride off into the night. Even though I have visited something like 19 countries in my life this is probably the strangest place ive been to. Mainly because I had no idea a place in the archipelago I am from could be so civilised. Im flabbergasted and delighted. We play with rad musicians too, C. Joynes rocks out and onwards from Takoma and Molepaws delves into old school record player and tape loop ambience.

After the gig Xav feeds us really good bread, a selection of cheese and red wine. Then he starts putting on late 60s Californian psych records. Totally amazing.

7/8/09 Brighton

photo by Lianne Hall
photo by Lianne Hall

Gig is a on a newly established community garden on Lewes Road, we play in front of a tiger painted on a wall and have a small fire wafting smoke across us and a charming appreciative audience mustered by Bela and Lianne H.

Look carefully in the picture and you can see that Nick’s mind has melted and is pouring forth as a source of light…

After the gig we go to rave in a farmhouse next to the A23. It totally blows our brains and none of us are quite stable for the rest of the tour.

I wake up in the passenger seat of the car with vehicles flying past below and Kirsty and Bela looking down on me, a can still within reach. Our cohesiveness as a touring unit comes to the fore as one member of the band casually sicks up an apple they’ve just eaten while the remaining two try to understand what the map means.

After we drive to a lovely beach in Rottingdean over the South Downs and get I get sunburnt and deranged even though I tie my Skull Disco t-shirt round my head.

8/8/09 London

drawn by Zeke S. Clough
drawn by Zeke S. Clough

Nick and Annabel are super happy exchange reading lists on Jewish culture and swap ideas relating to the possibility of conversion (was possible back in the day, bit trickier now unless you want to go for all the religious side also) sometime before Spoono relayed the wonderful possibilities of Debussy living in yr left hand and Takoma in yr right. Discover via Karl (the third housemate who’s laid out a set of harsh and dark acoustic numbers that night too) that there is a book about the AACM, im more excited than I have been for a long time and head up to Charing Cross Road to sniff it out.

Zeke turns up and makes the great sketches you can see of the group live in action and carries out his on going anthropological and psychotheraputic survey using only the question “If you were a superhero, what would your super power be?”

drawn by Zeke S. Clough
drawn by Zeke S. Clough

People actually dance to our “dance” number the tune Bansull and we rejoice. Realise my lung capacity needs to improve greatly if im going to play my Jaw Harp every single night. This inability later has dire consequences in Manchester, relating to the possibility of hyperventilation and how this affects the delivery of oxygen to the brain. The ability of the brain and body to function on less oxygen than that which is actually necessary is seriously depleted. As Milford Graves maintains:

“music produces sound which is a manifestation of variable changes in atmospheric pressure…In this respect music is a motivator for the transport of the essential factors of the life force- oxygen.”

Milford Graves
Milford Graves

9/8/09 London

drawn by Zeke S. Clough
drawn by Zeke S. Clough

Record new tune with Jack later in the afternoon. Its still without a name but im sure it’ll come to us. The tune is roughly named as being from the Wolf Valley but the melody doesn’t seem to have a specfic title attached. It should appear on a 7” with Spoono on the other side in the near future to be released by audioMER over in Belgian.

Later we go and eat curry goat and rice and pea from Peaches restaurant in SE5. Absolutely recommended.

Earlier in the morning I ate a filthy meaty roll followed by a huge baklava and a potato latkah in a pitta.

10/8/09 Llanfairfechan

welsh castle
welsh castle
N. J. Dobson
N. J. Dobson
D. M. Birchall
D. M. Birchall
K. J. Birchall
K. J. Birchall

Ten minutes into Wales and we’ve already found an abandoned castle on top a mountain built by Welsh princes’ with difficult names and even more complicated historical threads. Sheets of mist keep threatening us to be followed by bursts of brilliant sunshine. As Edwin sagely informs us “Wales is pretty black metal init”.

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Gig is in a wood next to a beach. We can see the sun setting over Anglesey as we play and there’s a huge mountain covered in old quarry workings, tumble down buildings and cranking rusting machinerys to our right which we walk up the next day with Edwin and get a healthy dose of sunshine, though when I look in the mirror I start to suspect that I may have lost the “youthful” elasticity of my skin although everything else seems pretty radiant; the sea is an unexpected blue and you can’t see any sign of human habitation. Ed tells us he once saw a dolphin in the sea down there.

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Before the gig we take rest at Edwin’s mum, Evelyn’s house with cups of tea and good quality talk. People keep dropping in from every direction seeming excited about the gig later. Evelyn cooks us really tasty home grown veg roasts and spuds for tea. We head down to meet Ed and others at the crossroads and then the beach and so to the forest as its called. Sweet guys play Leonard Cohen songs before we play. There is miles of incredible beach and coast line everywhere you look and in the other direction green mountains and undulating hills. We have to force ourselves to leave; it’s really all quite extraordinary.

11/8/09 Leicester
There’s a guy who’s wandered into the gig who on discovering we’re playing Norwegian songs starts on,

“Han Gabrack? Han Gabararack? You must know him?! Saxophone player! He’s Norwegian, Yann Gubluckarack!”

full flight
full flight

We shut our eyes and launch into what we affectionately call “ the horse song” which is really a mediation on a dark medieval tale about the black death and the eternal suffering and struggles of mammals whether conscious of themselves or not. Check Erik Satie’s “A Mammal’s Notebook”.

vibrant
vibrant

Kirsty sways and leads from the front like the “lusty, vibrant and violent” ( you dont believe this, check the Metro write up later…) front woman she has grown to be through a healthy combination of learning to be a primary school teacher and touring consistently in front of baying Spanish punk rockers holding only a violin and a voice to destroy and enlighten at 3 metres.

Victoria, Dave and Jim play a cracking set of newly improvised space jazz also. Jim kindly videoed throughout the evening see more here.

live in Hub...
live in Hub...

(all pictures of Leicester gig by Nicholas Birchall)

12/8/09 Sheffield
The mothership is a huge orange and pink cloud gently sitting squashed on hilltops off the A616. We’re driving towards it at a regular and energy efficient 60 miles per hour and im pretty much convinced were about to be picked out of our rented speeding silver rocket and carried off.

The mothership on it's way to collect us...
The mothership on it's way to collect us..

Of course were not but it later turns out that Rashied Ali has in fact gone on to some other place or just stopped plain dead and passed away on this very day. Striking me with a terrifying but elating synchronicity as the majority of our obsessional tour listening so far has been to the cosmic post classic quartet recordings of John Coltrane, on which Rashied Ali is the drummer. We’ve spent many happy moments the past few days picking out his delicate cymbal patterns and finese of movement round the drum kit. Even starting to associate the contents of Nick’s forever clanking and sounding small percussion bag with him everytime there is a jingle my the formidable sonic arsenal of cheese slicer, knitting needle, letter opener, pewter bowl, brass bowl, cooper bowl, butter knife, pine cone and many more rang out. Still now chewing over Rashied’s delicate cymbals patterns, treble cutting through the background rumble of car travelling.

Rashied Ali
Rashied Ali

As in Spain; were my hopeless pleading for Don Cherry’s Sound of Mu for a good 600 miles was eventually reciprocated by the others just outside Malaga, near the town, we later find out from the promoter Carlos, where he lived the last part of his life.

Don Cherry
Don Cherry

13/8/09 Manchester

This is what the Metro said before the gig,

Indeed...
Indeed...

and so Billy Hell had this to say about the actual Manchester gig,

“Kalbakken are a trio who play mostly old Norwegian folk songs on acoustic guitar, violin and inventive light percussion. They have one song about a dead crow and one about a dead horse. Dave Birchall the guitarist also whipped out a jaws harp for a song that I asked him to dedicate to Rolf Harris as he’d already dedicated songs to Dan (DBH), Walt Whitman and John Cage. Kalbakken don’t really remind me of anyone else, but I am no aficionado of Scandinavian tradition.”

Afterwards I had a funny turn and was mentally and physically sick all over the place. Went home feeling reborn and sleep.

14/8/09 Glasgow

scots rain
scots rain

We listen to the Papa M singles compilation on the way up. It’s quite extraordinary, moving from post slint vibes to laptop noodling to one tune with a huge coda of a single riff going for 15 minutes , when combined with driving sheets of rain; nearly does it for us all.

Chas Lalli is our man here. He cooks us the best lentil daal in Glasgow, totally packs out the gig at the 13th Note, ruins minds with the incredible VOM and generally treats us with total love and respect before sending us off with a packed lunch. Quality.

15/8/09 Newcastle
We’re next to the river Tyne, silt and curious lock workings the Sage and loads of bridges in the distance. Im reading Philip Roth finally. Gig is under a half train arch and on the door of the gents some comedian has written “goys” this leading to another full blown interband discussion about Judaism and its interaction with all the Abrahamic faiths and leading on to as ever to educational theory and its interaction with actual practise in the real world.

Drive back through totally amazing countryside Northumbria rocks. On our way we’d stopped at a bit of mile castle ruin on Hadrian’s Wall and felt sorry for the Romans thinking how they sat there freezing in the dripping rain. We quickly remember the Romans were in fact the first serious Imperialist Empire builders and feel less sorry for them.

Quartet for the end of time
Quartet for the end of time

Coming down through the Snake Pass the second time this tour Nick busts out Messiaen’s ‘Quartet for the End of Time’. It’s a moving piece of music and I’d recommend a listen.

16/8/09 Nottingham
Roll gently through the Peak District, stopping off in Tideswell and have an amazing ice cream. We head to check out the bells being rung in the c and affect is quite extraordinary. The overtone patterns of struck metal is totally unpredictable and there is a crazy thick fog of constant drone of tones below and above the notes actually being struck by the bells. Pretty cosmic. Going to investigate bell ringing some more.

photo by Nicholas Birchall
photo by Nicholas Birchall

Gig is at a folk club run by Nick of Folkwit Records. There’s laid back friendly vibes upstairs in this local boozer in Sherwood, approprately named the ‘Robin Hood’. Good listening audience and it suits our slowly winding down mood. Send Kirsty off to Leicester and we head north and after carrying out some vital wrong moves with the car.

Many thanks to all who worked hard to help put on gigs and came out to support us! We had a lovely old time.

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"Well it all fitted in last night..."
"Well it all fitted in last night..."

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