Long overdue, but I had a day off yesterday, so I thought I’d cut this together. In my last blog post I talked about the influence of Buddhism on my music making. That led to some really interesting conversations, so I thought today I would go deep and share this quite personal story of what Buddhism and Japan means to me.
My old chum Ronan – *very* keen fans will remember him opening for me on The Gloves Are On tour in Coventry – has an awesome blog about recording and music making. It’s an interesting space to occupy; in my news feed dominated by Waves Plugins and CLA tutorials, Ronan pops up with a refreshingly fuss free approach. Low cost, guerrilla studio sessions in public spaces; it’s very welcome. And very useful. Anything that makes music making easier for people is a good thing in my book.
We chatted recently about gloves, disability and my early influences. There’s some great questions – head to Light Audio Recording now!
I’m always looking toward the next thing. A new way to do things. A new place to play in. Thanks to my recent Developing Your Creative Practice award from Arts Council England (Yay!) I’m about to start my next big creative adventure. No time to sit still.
Under the working title Zanshin, this new work explores a few ideas, mostly through threads that have been asking me to tug them for a while. One of the most common questions I get asked is about composition; what is it like to compose music with the gloves? Quite honestly, I’m still learning. The amount of gigs I’ve played in the last 3 years has meant largely being a slave to my back cat – there’s been little time to compose. So that I knew had to be explored.
I’ve also become increasingly aware of the physicality of my work. It’s super-ironic; I’ve been held back most of my life by my impaired movement. I never did sports. I couldn’t run around as a kid. And here I am, making a living making a kind of music where my body is very much part of the instrument. Glove shows are very physical, and I want to dig deeper into that. And the way to do that, I figured, is through discipline in the physical movement. Specifically, choreography.
So that’s in the budget too. The choreography is where I saw a neat opportunity to tie this project into my interests in Japan.
As I think most people who know me know, I recently worked in Japan with Drake Music. It was a trip of a lifetime, with years worth of inspiration. Over lunch in Kawasaki I was discussing my ambitions to work with a choreographer with our friends British Council Japan. We chatted about Japanese dance, particularly the influence of traditional Japanese dance on J-Pop. It was a real light bulb moment, and the conversation turned to the idea of me working with a choreographer in Japan. The delicateness, the discipline; the more I learned about Japanese dance the more it made sense.
Back home, reflected on this, I reached out to a Japanese choreographer friend-of-friends, Ayaka Takai. Ayaka is based in Tokyo; although we didn’t meet in Japan, our mutual friends brought her to my attention. Ayaka studied in London, and as well as being a successful contemporary dancer, she also worked in the space between dance and disability. I introduced myself; she’d already seen me in action thanks to the British Council. She totally got it. We talked a lot. We had ideas exploding from all angles. We hatched a plan, and wrote a funding bid. We’d like to once again thank Arts Council England.
But the working title. Maybe the title. What is it?
Zanshin is one of many Japanese ideas I’ve fallen in love with of late. Along with Koi No Yokan and Ikagi, it’s one of those Japanese that occupies a subtle space that is difficult to translate into Western language.
Zanshin can be described as a state of relaxed awareness, a focused alertness. The term originates from Japanese martial arts, and naturally appeals to my Buddhist sensibilities. In particular, the idea relates to a “combative awareness” of the body.
This is a good word to describe the state I’ve been trying to achieve whilst performing. I’m trying to bring a relaxed awareness to my presence in my body on stage when performing with the gloves. My earliest performances were very much of the head; internally trying to remember the next movement. That state was complex and stressful.
Practicing mindfulness taught me how to be present in my body, and I soon learned that my body knew better than my head where the next movement was to. I came to realise that performance was way less about trying to remember what to do, and much more about being in a state of focus where the performance can unfold itself.
So this idea has become really central to working in this new space. I want it to start with this awareness, this presence, in the body. I want to inform composition ideas – and ultimately songwriting – in the sense of my body. In that sense that I’m here, alive.
This might sound strange, but I have a weird relationship with my body. It doesn’t work well, and it’s kind of been my nemesis. The clue is in the language there; it’s not me. I’m up here, in my head; the wonky bag of meat and bones is just the thing that carries my brain to where I need it to be.
That’s not a very healthy way to see yourself, is it?
So, goal number one: maybe this project, through the movement and music connecting, maybe it will help me build a better relationship with my body. Myself, even. Whatever else, that would make it a pretty life changing piece of art.
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Patrons will know this one. I was making a collection of new songs (“album” doesn’t quite sound right), which there was a series of behind the scenes webisodes made for. I’ll add those here soon, but this is Chapter 2 of that making of.
I put the idea to bed for a bit, partly because I was busy with live stuff, partly because I’d lost connection with it. But, it would be a great thing to finish off, so I’m picking it up. Dusting it off. It sounds awkward, and a little ugly. It lacks focus. But the stories it tells are worth telling.
So this is the Captain’s Log. Written word this time around. I’m not sure how useful all that footage of me sitting in a room is. Log II is this, me picking it back up. Log I as it’s now referred to is the series of videos in the Patreon. I will try and ship often, as the modern way. Snapshots of audio, images. It’s an open, unfinished book.
It’s fair to say, l’ve had a muddled career. 3 years ago, I thought it was over before it had really started. It sounds awfully dramatic, but I was fully expecting to have called time by now. I couldn’t move forward as a live performer. At least not in the model I was working in.
The solo acoustic troubadour model never really suited me, in retrospect. I play guitar, I’m solo, that’s just where I landed. I was never particularly good at it. My teenage obsession with Nick Drake was fully revived in 2015. I had a body of songs indebted to Pink Moon, called Flesh + Dust. It’s complex finger picking and open tuning felt authentic-I’d arrived at my place with the acoustic guitar. I’d finally found myself on this instrument.And then my hands really started to fuck up.
I was pushing myself HARD. And I guess, looking back, it was too far. My trands would tighten up, then shake, even after a few minutes playing. It got worse. I could barely get to the end of a song. It was no better in the studio. Comping takes piece-by-piece was a sin to me, and I couldn’t even do that.
So I figured, I was done.
If you’d told me then I was month’s away from Imogen Heap handing me a pair of A. I. Cyborg gloves that would mean I could play music in thin air, I’d be wondering what the hell you’d taken…
“Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the painter who dares and who has broken the spell of ‘you can’t’ once and for all.”
Bleary eyed, I’m staring at the white box. Where the text goes. There must be something meaningful to say.
It’s been a strange year so far. Everyone under this roof has been ill. Bugs, injuries, colds, flus; we’ve been wiped out. Cabin fever has me spooked. I’ve no idea how to make anything right now.
There’s good news. Strange news. I applied for a grant before Christmas. Arts Council England’s Developing Your Creative Practice award. I won. I WON. I keep saying it out loud. I’ve got the green light. I applied to fund the development of the new live show. My first tour, The Gloves Are On, was… all of the things. It gave me a career. It gave me an audience. It gave me headaches. All the things I wished I could have achieved, I get to shoot for now.
That’s important; you can’t do everything all at once. You just can’t. That’s totally obvious, and yet we try to. As an artists, we want to be every aspect of our expression immediately. Right now. But we can wait. We can take our time.
So the canvas is blank. The books are balanced. And the diary is clear. Now I have to clear my head, rub my eyes, and focus.
Eyes most definitely on the prize.
My fiancée . The first day I got the gloves home, I showed a few clumsy attempts as to what they could do. After a few minutes she said: “It’s all very good… but is it Metal?”
Nicci’s first musical love, like mine, is Metal.
At the time, my answer was ‘no’ – The Gloves lend themselves