Embodied Music

March 21, 2024

March 20, 2024

An old man was standing at a well, pulling up his full bucket of water hand over fist with some exertion, when a younger man walked by. Upon seeing the efforts of the older man, he ran back home to fetch a pulley. Proudly, he showed the old man: “Look, you can wrap the rope round this wheel and let the pulley do much of the work”.

The old man thanked him for his kindness, but said: “I am afraid, using this machine, that my mind will start to think itself clever and that my whole body and being will no longer be involved in the process of fetching water. It may be that just my wrists will do the work and I’ll grow impassive and disconnected. How, in such a case, do you think this water will taste to me then?”

I heard this Chinese proverb from author Jack Kornfield; although imperfect (as all such analogies must be), this immediately made me think of our current concerns with AI and our art.

I love the physicality of my instrument, and the tenor sax especially requires everything I have to achieve the sound and control I strive for. To be at one with your instrument is never a given, but so much is communicated to an audience through the commitment itself, not just the execution.

The AI argument puts the focus back onto what we are actually appreciating and loving in the music we hear, since much of our fulfilment can come from the empathy we feel for the performer's passion, their total in-the-moment commitment.

The hot potato with AI is that our need to make choices becomes diminished, and later, our actual ability to make them becomes diminished.

I don’t believe this argument is at all the same as the one that distrusts technology in general; in fact without technology, we’d be nowhere!

The title track of Moment Of Departure, my double album that celebrates the 20th year since The Lighthouse Trio started, is a composition based upon several recorded improvisations from all three band members. I notated the sections I thought were most interesting, and wrote a score for string orchestra; once recorded, it was synchronised to orchestrate all three improvisations. At its core, this version of the composition cannot be performed live. I used this same technique 20 years ago on the band's first recording, If The Sea Replied, and I love this way of preserving something truly spontaneous and clothing it in a composition.

With the dependence on great software and detailed production, it is a complete marriage of “man and machine”. On a whim, at one section I overlaid my improvised passages together with Asaf’s solo drum improv, which were recorded at different times. I merely found a “sweet spot” to lay my audio track against his so they play simultaneously. Both improvs are filmed too, wonderful moments of synchronicity show up!  What an interesting discussion to have, comparing this deliberate releasing of control as a composer to the release of control we give to AI. If one’s main concern lies with the “soul-to-soul” communication enjoyed by the listener, it is difficult to brush the argument aside as 'luddite'.

Moment Of Departure refers to all those “ jumping off” moments where the musicians leave the written page and live by their wits, improvising. The compositions on the album have very varied relationships with improvisation, several just represent the trio doing what it does best as in live settings, with the amazing teamwork of Asaf and Gwilym creating dialogue and groove in equal measure. At other times the symphonic strings and soloist Thom Gould play music totally notated, and it is in the interludes that things loosen up and the soloists experience new moments of departure.  

It is the title track that makes use of the most extreme twinning of the written and the spontaneous, and this is done in an attempt to preserve the golden value of something spontaneous and the embodied concentration this requires from the players.

It is personal to them, and I’m really thankful to Asaf and Gwil for trusting me with their musical musings. We will create new incarnations of this piece live, many times this year around the UK, along with screened artwork from fine artist Esra Kizir Gokcen whose paintings and drawings reflect many of the same values as the music.

The official launch is on the 30th May at Kings Place, but see the tour list and check out whether we are travelling near you!