Introverted Snobbery

Who is that person?  He’s on stage, with four other band members, who are a little more familiar to me, and he’s talking to the audience.  He’s a little balder on top than I remember, and also a little more confident.  I’m watching my band Brother Face, filmed at The Verdict in Brighton from a camera attached (presumably) to the venue’s ceiling, and this stranger is me.   If someone had been swinging from the chandeliers, this is how they might have seen the gig, perhaps in a brief and unlikely moment of stillness, whilst doubtless being distracted by whatever else they were doing up there.  We are huddled round the small stage like some kind of puppet show through a fish-eyed lens.  Still, I am also pleasantly surprised by his (my) outgoing and relaxed humour, especially since I recently discovered I am an introvert.  There I said it.  Out and proud.  Here is what to do if you meet one…

http://twentytwowords.com/2012/08/29/a-simple-explanation-of-how-to-interact-with-introverts/

Wanting a fuller diagnosis of my terminal condition, I took the Myers Briggs personality test, which revealed that I am INTJ personality type.  I always wanted something after my name, pin that thing down, wear those letters like a BMus or a PhD.  To be an introvert, in this essentially extrovert world of celebrity and self publicity buoyed up with self confidence, is like being a kind of spoilsport, a misery guts, a killjoy, “cheer up, what’s wrong?” sort of person.  And introverts are typically predisposed to dwell on this, often taking personality tests or, on occasion, writing whole books to try and figure out what’s going on, which is what Susan Cain did.

With the recent publication of her study of introversion and its benefits, “Quiet”, this secret world has been laid bare, and it seems to have made the poor woman famous (all those book signings and seminars must have been like hell on earth).  After reading a couple of chapters, it turns out this last assumption is a myth; it’s not the socialising, it’s being accepted by those people you are with, gaining some kind of “permission” to engage with them.  This explains the popularity of social media amongst introverts, happy to blab on about how exciting things are in endless updates whilst retreating to a reassuring solitude in the “real” world.  So why am I happy to play the piano on stage, talk to an audience, but reluctant to ask someone in the street the way to the Post Office?

I think it is something to do with the instruments, the piano and the microphone.  Playing the piano, in comparison with the “out front” horns, is like a desk job.  I am often sat facing the wall (a familiar punishment for those of us who grew up in the olden days), either behind a high wooden box or a six foot table.  These boxes and tables, they make noises; I am mostly in control of the type of sound that comes out, and often not.  I use them to talk to other musicians on stage in a language in which we are all fluent, and conversations unfold in much the same way they do when normal people speak to each other.  There are agreements, fights, crossed wires and moments of telepathic empathy.  But often I am not looking at you, the audience, when this happens.  You are all looking at the back of my head.

This is a source of immense comfort to me.  I once played the clarinet on a gig and, whilst the lack of jazz technique was problematic, the fact I had nothing between myself and the audience was mortifying.  As for the microphone; it takes incoherent, shy, awkward mumbling and blows it up to the size of a public address.  You don’t have to project, to assert your entitlement to be speaking.  Like the piano, it gives you that entitlement, it is a barrier and a portal at the same time.  A bit like blogging really.  Chris Batchelor, the trumpeter in my band, often confuses  sound engineers when he insists on having a microphone in order to play quieter.  Projection has its own limitations; it’s not just “fuller”, it’s more insistent, there’s less grain to it.  Sometimes you have to explore the changes in sound that happen when instruments are quiet, or slow, or inward looking, when music does not project with the force of an orator’s roar but with the whisper of a softly spoken confidence.

Contrast with this the Post Office scenario – who am I to interrupt the day of a total stranger with what extroverts among you may regard as a simple request, possibly even an opportunity to engage in conversation?  He or she is not walking down this street in order that I might ask a question; my presence is an interruption which, as an introvert, I assume is unwelcome on their part.  But you, the audience, have by implication agreed to listen to whatever happens on the stage by being here, you have given us a vote of confidence.  Of course, once off the stage, the deal is off.  I’m back to my usual self, doing my best to be extrovert in a world that seems to demand it most of the time.

I hope this doesn’t sound like whining.

I remember having to transcribe (i.e translate recordings to musical notation) over thirty Bill Evans trio recordings for a book, and because my ear isn’t very accurate (or is it because I doubt my judgement?), I used software to help me out.  By using a computer to divide each track into manageable chunks, I could slowly shunt my way through each small section, listen to it over and over, and move one once I’d got it down.  On one particular track from the Village Vanguard sessions, one of the most listened to jazz albums in history, I looped the first few bars.  As I listened I heard, in addition to the exquisite unfolding of Evans’s music, an eerie howl that seemed to envelop the music.  When I listened to the track all the way through, without the loop, it had vanished.  I went back to looping the opening section; there it was again, like some angry Ghost of Analogue’s Past invading my computer.  The music was quite clearly haunted, even a devout sceptic (albeit an introverted sceptic) such as myself could not refute the evidence.  Clinking of wine glasses in the background, when looped, began as shambolic percussion, but the more I listened the more I could hear notes, and then I almost started to write them down as part of the transcript.  It was hard to tell where notes began and where sound ended.

We are unreliable witnesses to this music, and now that the Brother Face tour has finished, it’s time for me to listen over the live recordings and videos and see if any of it makes sense.  I’m hoping make some kind of album, but before I do that I need to hear it like it’s someone else’s music, not mine – to see it from the chandelier. In the meantime, perhaps I should adopt a more “extrovert” approach just to keep up; it is what we are required to do from time to time.

“Massively looking forward to this exciting new release with some of my favourite musicians bringing these amazing compositions to life.”

#justrememberthisisnothowitalk

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Possible origins of “Brother Face”

 

 

I never used to read poetry; it was somehow a symbol of everything I didn’t know, and could never learn.  Steve Swallow’s album “Home” is built around Robert Creeley’s poems, but at the time it was the musical forms, endlessly rotating yet deceptively simple, that attracted me.  Listening to Steve Swallow’s music is like a familiar face that always appears new, yet retains its identity, as if one views it from a different angle each time.

 But then I started looking at the poems – strange fragments of conversation, no long words, there was nothing I didn’t understand, but I couldn’t find its meaning; it was confusing and yet something about it drew me in.  I decided to investigate, eagerly amassing volumes of his work; like buried treasure, I had a feeling I could dig it up in the future, and age might render it even more beautiful, perhaps I might even understand some of it.  Along with The Beatles, Beethoven late string quartets and making my own jam, it was something I could save for later life.

Several years on,  I am in many ways none the wiser.  I must say I don’t know what Creeley’s on about most of the time.  But I keep going back to him, there is so much to enjoy even without understanding, it’s taught me to listen to words both written and spoken as I would to music.  I want to understand it, and in the meantime am happy just to read it.   And every so often, a quote will jump out at me, and a meaning presents itself.  Here’s one, from a poem called “En Famille”.

 

“Somehow it’s sometimes hard to be a human.

Arms and legs get often in the way,

Making oneself a bulky, awkward burden.”

 

I love the way the words are not only describing a feeling, they are doing it.  Reading these lines, I feel like my mouth is reliving the actual experience, the consonants piling up and making a spluttering mess of what should be a perfectly normal sentence.  No long words.  At the same time, I think it expresses a feeling that many artists, writers and performers have; the need to somehow transcend the limits of physical body.  One often hears of people who feel they are “a woman trapped in the body of a man”, or vice versa.  Well I am a man trapped in the body of a man.  My arms and legs often get in the way, and so does everything else to be honest.  I feel that music temporarily removes the physicality of being alive and translates into a pure energy, or perhaps an energy “outside” of one’s body.

 If I’m playing, and especially if it’s going well, it’s “flowing”, I’ll get to the end of a tune and it will feel like someone waking me up.  It’s like falling asleep at the wheel, but with the physical danger removed.  This is not a cosmic, hippyish assertion; it means that as a player, one enters the realm of the listener.  The closer you can get, as a player, to the listener’s world, the more the music will seem to compose itself.  Of course, the stuff “under the bonnet” needs to be working too in order to get there, but I am loathe to talk about the fuel injection to someone who just wants to see a good race. 

In essence, music, both in its making and its appreciation, is an out-of-body experience.  (It is also, a lot of the time, an out-of-money experience.)   I feel like the occasional alienation one experiences as an artist, the often structureless form of the weeks, every one different and yet similar, busy and empty in strange alternation, the “What do you do I’m a musician oh that’s glamorous what kind of music jazz mostly….(silence)…does jazz still happen now that you can’t smoke indoors?” conversation – all of this is compensated for the intensity of the out-of-body experience.  The precarious existence of a musician, envied by many, sits uneasily with the sea of rampant consumerism where a desperate lunge for the shops seems the only way to stay afloat.  The escape needs to be real, not just a discussion about what is possible or not possible, it has to be physical, tangible, living.  At that point one might see a shadow not of one’s former self, but of the one that is here now.  Maybe not even a shadow, maybe a reflection.  Here’s another Robert Creeley poem, “Histoire De Florida” and it opens like this;

 

“You’re there

still behind

the mirror

brother face.

 

Only yesterday

you were younger,

now you

look old.

 

Come out

while there’s still time

left

to play.”