The ancient discussion
A gathering regarding our personal languages and how to bring them to the common ground
We are so excited. Collaborations have always been a central part of our project. But this one had a special weight to it. Maybe because of the length of it, maybe because of the failed attempt last October, or maybe just for the incredible person and musician, very loved by all of us, who is about to arrive: Steve Schofield.
The beginning is already challenging: A concert on the same day we all get together. But a couple of hours together is enough to look at each other, share where we are at and create a common ground on which we can uphold the gig. We build it of the admiration we have for each other, the thankfulness to be invited or to accept the invitation, and also little stories, already full of synchronicity, about bird migrations, rocks and waters, fishermen and loving cooking moms that just happen to be told at that time. In particular, Steve tells us this story about how once, sitting by the edge of a cliff by the seaside, realized how the ocean and the rocks have been in this constant discussion for ages. One very persistent, the other so rigid... These sharings become our possible playlist, and the last one gives name to the whole gathering.
Only 15 minutes before the concert, with everything set up, orbayu (the super thin rain typical from Asturias) starts to fall. Too late to move inside. But the public is clear in its decision, and so we hop up and go ahead. As always uncertainty and extreme circumstances play in our favor and the audience’s warmth is very much felt.
The next day is a parenthesis moment before the retreat officially starts, so we can relax, eat and chat merrily and listen to the concert last night. We also fill a big paper with all the things that would create a “successful residency”, whatever that means. Things about the musical work come up, but also about the way we feel and experience playing, how to deal with our analitical and creative parts of the brain, and the way to relate to the space around and to our own bodies.
Serendipia welcomes us with humid air, thick clouds and unexpected cold. The Whale, the lovely wooden house that we come to, brings us curiosity of what is about to happen. The tone of our words becomes soft and fades away allowing for a first melody to come. Out of the slow melting voices, instruments arise, patient like an arctic sunrise. The energy grows allowing for our full sound to expound an evolve reaching breath-taking abrupt end. Without notice we’re already working some of the things we pointed at and decide to continue down the rabbit hole that just opened up. The director role comes at play with visual cues for beginnings and changes. We all explore it for some time.
The possibility of following the director with a sense of freedom and diversity, the need for adequate body disposition and openness, the signal to pass the role to someone else… Lots of things start to pop up with much energy. A promising beginning, no doubt.
We decide to stablish a little daily schedule. Morning session 9:30-10:30. Breakfast. Midday session 12 – 17h aprox. Dinner. Evening session/nature walk/others. At first, I had my doubts about such a fixed program, but in the end I think it saved us a lot of small decision-making and organized our minds for work and food (the two most important aspects!). We were also able to apply on-the-spot flexibility when needed.
And so we begin the next day and, as a first exercise we start exploring this “languages” proposition, which, little that we knew, would become the central exercise for the whole gathering. (We had a hint; it was in the center of our big paper…)
The idea is to give each one the time to express and share a language, an area of investigation or a particular sound that they feel could be interesting in the quartet. We quickly realize it’s a perfect way to introduce Steve to the band, but also for us three to get to know each other more deeply.
The exercise takes the following shape: First one has a few minutes to improvise a solo piece. Here we already touch on the “vulnerability” business, which is of key importance to us. Then we comment on what we heard. Stylistic aspects, imagery and feeling that came along, rhythmical or harmonic details… We would then come up with a name for this language and start it again for the rest to join. From this point usually interesting things would come up to expound more in depth, so more exercises would arise to allow this language to become a common language. And this is how this exercise became central, since everything else we wanted to work on started to show up within this last part. Here are some of the languages and main features we worked with:
Rubato and contrapunto (Alejandro - Bass) Feeding from his classical background, very present throughout the week, we explored on the flow of rhythm without the need for a pulse. Also on the response possibilities within the melodies and his great leadership skills, including body language and confidence in the unknown.
Dreamy Hendrix harmony (Steve - Piano) A very concrete harmony takes us to an evocative landscape rich in range and dynamics. In a great balance of analytical and creative mind we explore the tension-relax movement at different velocities and intensities, going back to the director game for this. At the end we go back to the dream and, without thinking, allow ourselves to fly off within this sound, by now already in us.
Stream of motives. Layered (Javier - Drums) With a very melodic playing a little conversation starts to develop. There is a feeling of “playing only part of what you could” to remain focused and coherent. We explore the possibilities of pulse without time signature to allow for motives to come and go freely. Then we jump into time signatures and explore some polyrhythmic motives, discussing the benefits of not listening to the rest to create a contrast or to remain anchored in one’s line (sometimes not easy!).
Fluid light (Nabil - Piano) A warm feeling full of continuity and emotion. His leadership becomes powerful without a need for fixed structures. Sometimes on an odd meter or on a chord loop, we try to make that flexible with his guidance to follow. Creativity channels into the attempt of composing some backgrounds/hits on the spot. A beautiful possibility that we always felt attracted to and that now comes a bit closer.
(Thursday. Morning meditation on silence and listening. Breakfast with emotional conversations on vulnerability, tacit listening, and care for the others. Also, on the internal messages that pop up in these situations saying “I am not capable” that we realize do not correspond to reality. The ambient becomes more delicate. Feminine energy is approaching)
Controlled power (Steve - Sax) After a few solo pieces with different colors where vulnerability is present but, in a way, helping channel the energy and remain focused, we acknowledge the bravery of doing such a thing for the first time in front of us (we are starting to get used to it) and with an instrument he’s not fully comfortable with. Still, he brings that immense power and, when we join, he takes us to peaks above the highest peaks. He pushes the throttle to unknown regions maintaining much calmness within.
In the evening Gloria and Carmen arrive to share with us some improvisionary moment. We talk about confidence and vulnerability and create a very safe space where everyone feels comfortable as well as challenged. From there a journey of great expression, freedom and much love begins. Dance, poetry, new instruments, and a feeling of continuous ritual brought us all to different moments of surprising our own selves. Satisfaction and thankfulness are the unanimous conclusions.
(Heads up! What comes after a peak?)
The provoquer (Alejandro - Viola de Gamba) From a “classic overture” to a raging demon within. Slowly but unstoppably growing and burning. He holds the tension in such a way that keeps him open during such a battle. He expresses that he feels these aspects so integrated within him that they are not opposite for him anymore. With this suggestion we dive into exploring the role of the provoquer: Him who hears what is happening but decides to play something completely different. Not necessarily wanting the rest to follow, but definitely looking for some disruption of, maybe, excessive beauty, harmony, or calmness.
We find some difficulties to incarnate him consciously. These creatures operate better from darkness. We try to bring some possible exercises including abrupt changes and splitting in 2-2 (or 2-1+director) groups. There seems to be too many propositions at some point and different perspectives on this character, so we end up a bit overwhelmed. Did excessive creativity block the energy? Did some new exercises challenge (provoque) the stablished way of working and were difficult to accept? These reflections came much later. By that time we just knew we needed fresh air. The provoquer is not an easy one.
Maybe when saturation comes too much work has been done and it’s time for a break. Luckily enough that same evening a friend comes with a playful and dispersive energy. We play from another register and the we go for a walk to the beach.
Dhrupad (Javier - Voice) The first “official” language (dhrupad is an ancient part of Indian music). We share some time exploring the tampura, tunning and melting with it and finding the notes of a particular raga to play with. We agree on the beautiful experience of giving more awareness to deep listening, but we also talk about the difficulties of entering such a concrete and stablished genre. It’s hard to find ourselves within that and to come out of it.
And that quickly came the day of the concert! The weather is perfect, the setup inspiring and the reservation list quite large. While we remain in a “soft-spot” feeling within, because of all that has happened throughout the week, there’s also a great confidence that allow us to keep calm. We actually need that soft spot to bring something real on stage and feel glad to hold it in our bodies.
Minutes before the concert we all gather in the room where we’ve been rehearsing and simply sit to relax for a bit. Everyone on their spot. But no instruments anymore. Just us.
Approaching the stage, we see everyone in silence already. It’s the best gift we could have imagined. Around 40 people, a fire and four lads ready to give all their potential. Whatever that is.