the slate pipe banjo draggers – thoughts on finding ideas in lockdown confines (by Andy Rowe)

in Music/Spotlight

I’ve been spending a lot of time staring into space, or actually I’ve been thinking about staring into space, when I’ve actually just been doing something else. Something more constructive. Although I’m not saying that staring into space isn’t constructive, it has a time and a place. Especially now, in these times since the lockdown began. I thought, or the thought appeared to me, I didn’t have the thought, or I didn’t make it occur. It was just there and I noticed it. They happen like that, those thoughts. And then I digressed again. I took on the realization that the lockdown would allow me to do the creative things, and to do many of them. And then the staring into space happened again when I then realized that I’d overloaded myself with ideas and half formed thoughts and I wasn’t actually working on any of them and making them real. So in order to deal with the staring into space process I let it become a creative act in itself. Well, I don’t let it. The process itself revealed itself to me to be a creative process and not a timewaster of frustration. Sometimes it showed itself to be a small step in the creation of a final finished piece. Sometimes it is exactly what it is though, just staring forwards at nothing in particular for a while, because I’m having a rest.

I’ve been sitting around at home taking idea opportunities that have presented themselves to me. The powers that be have been saying that I shouldn’t go out unless necessary so I’ve pretty much done that. I bent the rules once and went to the DIY shop and bought some varnish. And I went to the art shop and bought some grey acrylic paint. I know I could have mixed some black and white and saved myself a trip but I was having an episode of severe artistic self doubt so it was definitely necessary to me. So it seems I bent the rules twice. I’ve probably done it more actually, but I always wore a mask.  Anyway, as mentioned at the paragraph start, I haven’t been out much. I figured I’d spend the housebound time exploring the potential of the enforced restrictive surroundings to generate art in various forms. Perhaps unearthing instruments and sound devices not bothered with for many years and seeing if they can find new meaning and contexts in the current climate, or diving deep down into long forgotten corners of the computer hard drive to see what files could be unearthed, reused and reinvented.

I sometimes like to make films to go with the sounds that I make and I felt myself approaching a stumbling block of mild panic there as I couldn’t think how I could film anything particularly interesting within the confines of the flat. I realized later it a was a panic that came from not acknowledging the restriction and instead working with it. The first sound piece I made involved a nine minute jam with my microcassette setup which was still laying around untidy from pre lockdown days. With no-one around to advise me otherwise,  I decided against shortening it and elected instead to make a visual accompaniment, because you can do that when you’re on your own with no-one around to reign you in. I adopted the subject of the first paragraph for a while and stared into space wondering how to fill nine minutes of ambient tape noises with a visual aspect and the cat came in the room and went into full grooming body lick mode. I filmed it and used it with a few effects and things. I was pleased with the result. He didn’t groom himself for nine minutes, he’s not a maniac. You can stretch that out with computers. Ordinarily I’d have ignored the cat but things are different at the moment and that day he was the most animated thing in my vicinity so he got filmed.

I remember about 10 years ago I was ill. Not potentially deadly ill like people are now, but painfully ill with a kidney stone. I had to go to the hospital a lot. Sometimes to A and E for pain relief, which almost made it worthwhile. Sometimes I had to go for various medical procedures and where possible I asked permission to record these procedures. I still have the documentation I made of those yelping, morphine infused times and lockdown presented me with the opportunity to embark on a computer hard drive safari to find them again. Hospitals and illness are in the news a lot currently and I realized that due to this I was being reminded of my painful times past so I was drawn to revisit those files to reappraise. They turned up in various poorly referenced digital areas. Some were images I felt uncomfortable with of me out of my mind on medical grade drugs so they were disregarded. Some I had used already in other projects in the interim years. However, one short piece of blocky mobile phone footage presented itself to me of a nurse’s hands taking blood samples from my arm. It was from ten years prior to the corona situation but the themes of care, medical procedure, testing, touching and proximity were all relevant to right now, so I used the footage to accompany a new piece of music. I pondered about using the film and thought about whether or not I’d have found it or used it if it wasn’t for the corona virus situation. I probably wouldn’t have, it hadn’t been in my mind at all for many years. It seemed to have been just waiting there to be picked for an appropriate idea.

So I finished those pieces, and put them up on the internet and watched them and listened to them a bit more, while staring into space again. Sometimes while staring I start to feel hungry which in turn gives me a desire to eat. So I go and do some cooking as it again fulfills a need and it’s quite nice stirring stuff and staring at it bubbling for ages.