On Exactitude

For a while now I’ve been recording free improvised music and posting it online. I’ve been going through the recordings recently and putting them into some sort of order. I’ve reposted the result on Bandcamp, in the form of an album. It is, I realise, a minority taste but that doesn’t really matter: I feel as if it comes from somewhere and has to get out.

My interest in improvising goes right back to my teens. I and two friends, all three of us following quite traditional paths through musical education, used to get together to indulge in spontaneous, avant-garde music-making sessions. We discovered the thrill for ourselves: we didn’t read any Modernist manifestos or theoretical writings on the subject (that came later). And the thrill was more than the thrill of transgression: we knew from experience that what we did worked as music.

Unfortunately, these days I’m a one-man band. It occurred to me that there was nothing stopping me multi-tracking improvised music. I could record myself improvising on the double bass, say, then record myself improvising on the guitar while listening to the first recording and so on. Digital technology makes this much less expensive and cumbersome than it used to be. In addition to the bass and the guitars (classical and acoustic, sometimes “prepared”) I worked with synthesizer software and a Korg Monotron synthesizer, sometimes making purely electronic music, other times modifying the sounds made by the other instruments. Occasionally I threw in a rebec and various toy instruments.

After much thought, I decided to call the album On Exactitude, after the Jorge Louis Borges short story, On Exactitude in Science. It’s the story of how map makers made bigger and  bigger maps of an Empire, finally coming up with a 1:1 map the size of the Empire itself: once unfolded, it covered the land it represented. It occurred to the people in the story that the map was useless and so they left it to the elements to rot away – although, as the story says, in the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map…

It seemed apt. Firstly, I had been trying to think of a title but kept coming back to the fact that the music described itself and so was itself its own title. Then, the paper map of the story put me in mind of the tradition of written down, composed music that, in this case at least, had become unnecessary to the job in hand.




11 thoughts on “On Exactitude

  1. Dominic, bravo for doing this, the improvising itself and the process of making an album..congratulations for the whole undertaking. I wish I could say that I like or ‘get’ the music but I’m afraid I lack the sensors or the background for it. I don’t think it’s something that one can instantly connect with. I love the freedom and inventiveness of improvisation and breaking new ground in any and all creative endeavours, but my own musical tastes tend to be for strong rhythms and patterns, whether in Bach, Bartok, Brubeck blues, bossa nova, etc. I admit that’s not avant-garde taste but I haven’t been sufficiently exposed to this mode of sound-creation to be able to appreciate it.

    On the other hand, I’m thrilled by the possibilities of creating one’s own compositions digitally, collaging/superimposing different bits of recordings, different instruments and sounds. I’ve played a tiny bit with this idea myself, amateurishly, using Mac’s Garage Band pre-recorded samples and I took a short course on Logic software. But I’d need another lifetime to really go into it so I gave up – too much else to do!

    I wish you the very best for your impro project, keep at it!

    1. Thanks for that! The encouragement is much appreciated. If it helps, I’d say that working on improvisation often feels very much like being not unlike a painter. I watched an old BBC documentary on John Hoyland and was struck by how his ways of working were so similar (I thought) to what I and other improvisors were doing with sound. Jackson Pollock springs to mind, too (particularly in IMPROV 18).

      I’m very much struck by how the audience actually sees the brush-strokes, etc., that a painter makes, whereas it only hear the “realisation” of a score written by a composer. Improvisation, in this regard, is more like painting in that the audience actually hears the sounds the improvisor makes. There are other similarities – building up layers of sound reminds me of building up layers of oil paint for example.

      1. Dom, coincidentally, while I was writing my comment above I did think about how your impros reminded me of that John Hoyland BBC documentary and also of Jackson Pollock’s work! Don’t know why I didn’t mention it.

        It would be interesting to make a video of, say, Pollock at work on one of his paintings combined with a soundtrack of one or more. of your impros. I’m pretty sure there is a Youtube video of Pollock at work so it wouldn’t be impossible. There would be copyright issues, of course, if it were shown publicly but you could do it just for private viewing.

  2. I’ve listened to “Exactitude” several times over the past 1-1/2 hours while reading this and that on my laptop. A rich experience. I like the way I feel as I listen and the way I am seeing colors connected to the sounds. I just finished reading And Then There Was Light by Jacques Lusseyran. After he was blinded as a boy, he perceived the world he could still hear and feel as light and color. I have had a new experience of the world listening to “Exactitude.” I am thinking now that I will listen again as I work on my next mandala. Thank you!

    1. Thanks for that! I’m lost for words… 🙂 I find what you say really interesting, too, as I made a lot of this music during a period of my life that involved three eye operations and a very real threat to at least one eye! Hopefully, the worst of all that is over (my sight is still pretty good) but one motivation to make improvised music for me was to explore ways of being creative in which sight (e.g., reading or writing down music) did not play a central role.

      That someone would want to listen to this music while pursuing their own creative work touches me deeply. I would be interested to see the outcome.

  3. I am more receptive to visual creations, but I always end up wondering if it might not be better to simply find the sights or sounds occurring naturally. Much more time consuming of course and perhaps not as much fun.

    I find myself wondering if you have heard of Ryue Nishizawa’s Moriyama House? You can see the film about it here. https://www.dezeen.com/2017/12/15/watch-beka-lemoine-movie-moriyama-san-ryue-nishizawa-moriyama-house-japan-video/

    And I do wonder if you would be interested in visiting the Setouchi triennale. I wrote a little bit about it in my blog but some of the houses do contain audible creations too. Just type “Setouchi” into the search box. One of my main reasons for wanting to return to Japan is the very interesting art to be found there.

  4. Fascinating short film. I like the music. I did go and see Kosugi live in Gateshead a few years ago. Thanks for the tip about the triennale. I can’t see myself going though: it’s over 30 years since I travelled outside the British Isles.

    The Tobias Rehberger house looks amazing!

    To return to the noise music, its not a term I tend to use but a lot of what I do could probably be so described:


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