Friday, 9 August 2013

Life is so wonderful, I think you'd love it

I think this is what my mother said to me on one of my last visits before she departed this life in 2010. After a remarkable and active life her last few years were a sad descent into dementia; all the traits that make someone who they are unlearned and disassembled one by one, like childhood in reverse. In terms of language we saw all the stages from the forgetting proper nouns and common nouns, to a difficulty in forming coherent sentences, to words whose syllables were distorted, only half-remembered, as a young child might try to pronounce a new and unfamiliar word. For someone who spent their life lecturing and public speaking and who loved to inspire enthusiasm for art, it must have been a strange and terrifying process. I don't know why I didn't record her speaking voice earlier (she could deliver a lecture about Venice some time after she had forgotten who I was, or what to do with a cup of tea and a biscuit) but by the time I made these recordings her speech was mostly disconnected syllables and invented words with the odd platitude and conversation-filler. The source sounds for this piece are mother's strange monologues, a crow in the tall trees of the nursing home, the sounds of the lapping water and the creaking floating platforms of the Mersey ferry (she lived most of her life near Liverpool)... later on the evening ambience of Venice - water, vaporetto stops, footsteps, a restaurant and bells.

This concludes the series of sound pieces 6s & 7s. The others can be heard here...

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Falklands Tango Club

As for many people of my generation Margaret Thatcher represented a world view that was totally opposed to my own, a culture of individualism, materialism, selfishness and greed combined with an anachronistic patriotism. Among the very bad things she did for Britain - privatisation of industries, the crushing of trade unions, financial deregulation resulting in the economic crisis we're now in, the brutal contempt for British working people, the branding of Nelson Mandela as a 'terrorist', the list goes on and on... perhaps the worst was the utter folly of the Falklands war. I always felt that the differences could have been resolved by a community arts project, a cultural exchange initiative that could bring the Argentinians and the islanders together in a graceful dance....
A tribute to Maggie from the soon-to-be-released album by Stanley Adler and myself...

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Album Leaf

It was our friend Urte's 50th birthday the other day - an artist from New York who found herself living in the Aude through a long chain of events. Among her strange and mostly recycled gifts, I recorded this. A little piece I wrote last year as part of a collection of 49 pieces called Winter Leaves - album leaves dedicated to artist and musician friends.
Off to Birmingham today for a stint of teaching at the Conservatoire. On Tuesday I'll be playing in the Recital Hall - a programme with some more of these pieces.

the programme notes...

22nd January 2013
Recital Hall 6.30pm

Andrew Downes        7 Preludes for piano Opus 89 (2006) 

Leaves in Autumn
Winter Lanes
Spring Lambs
Summer Calypso
Daybreak in the Fields
Storm Force

Mark Lockett              Winter Leaves (2011-12)

This group of piano pieces follows on from other works exploring calendrical cycles such as 6s and 7s and The Big Haiku. There are 49 pieces all composed between December 2011 and January 2012 - one per day as the title of each indicates. A performance can consist of any number of the pieces in any order, so the performer chooses which ones to play.

Consistent with the numerous pieces entitled feuille d'album, albumblatt, etc of 19th century composers, these pieces are short and don't follow any prescribed form. Each one is dedicated to an artist or musician friend as a token of admiration and friendship, and although they're not intended to be musical portraits, there is perhaps some subconscious hommage-paying at work, which I prefer not to analyse!

Album Leaf 22/12/11 for Andrew Downes
Album Leaf 21/12/11 for Faheem Mazhar
Album Leaf 15/12/11 for Aziza Sadikova
Album Leaf 25/1/12 for Zöe Redman
Album Leaf 17/1/12 for Alex Hutchings
Album Leaf 22/1/12 for Lamberto Coccioli
Album Leaf 24/1/12 for Marie-Louise Taylor

Album Leaf 27/12/11 for Ivo de Greef
Album Leaf 14/12/11 for Cheng-Ying Chuang
Album Leaf 13/12/11 for Dmitry Kormann
Album Leaf 8/12/11 for Chitraleka Bolar
Feuille d'Album 18/12/11 for Jacques Charpentier
Toten Blatt 7/12/11 for Greg Chandler
Album Leaf 20/12/11 for Urte Reyes

Album Leaf 23/12/11 for Olalekan Babalola
Feuille Blanche 11/1/12 for Valérie Schlée
Album Leaf 7/1/12 for John White
Album Leaf 18/1/12 Ezra's Waltz II
Album Leaf 16/1/12 for Frank Moon
Album Leaf 14/1/12 for Sid Peacock
Album Leaf/Notturno 31/1/12 for Jamie Crofts

 Mark Lockett was a lecturer in world music and ethnomusicology at the Birmingham Conservatoire from 1989 to 2002. He now lives in the south of France. He has taught at the University of Toulouse and has run music workshops in the psychiatric hospital of Limoux for a number of years. Current projects include an electro-jazz duo with cellist Stanley Adler and an opera for soloists, chamber orchestra and gamelan entitled "Debusi".

Monday, 14 January 2013

Softly, as in a morning sunrise

Most Monday mornings at the crack of dawn Stan comes round with his cello. Quick coffee and then down to a couple of hours solid work, practicing and sometimes recording, until he has to take off back to Carcassonne around 11. Great way to start the week! Today we recorded a version of the above-named Standard, composed originally as a tango in 1928 by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II. Here, however, I recomposed the melody in the north Indian dawn raga Lalit...

Sunday, 6 January 2013


Today is the Concert de nouvel an in Limoux, by the Lyre Municipale - the harmonie of local music school under the baton of Guy Robert, who was also director of the music school until recently. It's a big group with children, alumni of the school, various amateur and professional musicians. As with last year's concert I've been drafted in to play tanpura for one piece - a little touch of exotica in the sea of rather militaristic wind, brass and percussion. The tanpura (which I bought for £30 in a launderette in Leicester) is treated with semi-reverential awe, and in fact most people don't realize that it's very easy to play. The only real skill is in tuning it, and even slightly out of tune it sounds horrible. Whenever I've played with Indian classical musicians, they will grab the tanpura from you and tune it for you. You can't trust a student to do that! John Mayer used to say it was the most boring instrument in the world to play, but actually the great thing is that you get to be on stage with your guru!
Here is Ali Zaki Haider, a senior disciple of the great rudra veena master Ustad Asad Ali Khan, accompanying his teacher...