The17

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BOOK COMING ON
9 March 2006

I can feel a book coming on. You know, like when you get the first inclinations you might need a shit. I had my suspicions that this book coming on might be happening because this morning before I set out on the long day’s drive zigzagging up the land, I went into a WH Smith’s to buy a couple of Black n’ Red lined A4 notebooks and a six-pack of pencils.

The book will be about a choir … A choir that has existed inside my head for almost a score of years. About how the voices of this choir torment and inflame my imagination. How they provide my internal soundscapes with some of the most beautiful and terrifying music I have ever heard. And how over these past few months I’ve been dragging this choir out of my head and into some sort of shared reality and, with the grace of God, I will continue this dragging out over the coming months and years.

This choir is called The17.

It will also be about standing at the end of an era, where all the recorded music that has ever meant anything to you or me or anybody else is speeding its way to irrelevance. The whole canon of recorded music that has been stockpiled over these past 110 years is going rotten, rapidly losing any meaning for anybody except historians and those who want to exploit our weakness for nostalgia.

The very urge to make recorded music is a redundant and creative dead-end, not even an interesting option, fit only for the makers of advertising jingles, ring-tones and motion picture soundtracks. The sheer availability and ubiquity of recorded music will inspire forward-looking music-makers to explore different ways of creating music, away from something that can be captured on a CD, downloaded from the internet, consumed on an MP3 player; and the very making of recorded music will seem an entirely two-dimensional 20th-century aspiration to the creative music-makers of the next few decades. They will want to make music that celebrates time, place, occasion. There may be those that want to keep the craft of recorded music alive but we will think of them in the same way as we now think of those who work with bygone art forms, irrelevant in tomorrow’s world.

I can’t wait to hear the music that is being made in 100 years from now. These notions keep me awake at night with excitement

It’s been one of those early March clear blue days, where all of creation seemed fit for bursting into spring. The Blackthorn blossom already out. The first leg of the journey has taken me from northeast London, up the A11 to my workshop in Norwich, where I met up with work colleague John Hirst and loaded up the Land Rover. We headed west on the A47 across the black soil of the Fens and under its vast skies to Peterborough, then up the Great North Road (A1) to Scotch Corner. All the way, the music of The17 has been soaring and grinding and pumping in my head. Thoughts and ideas were desperate to get down my right arm, through the pencil and on to the open page.

Scotch Corner is a roundabout on the A1 a few miles north of Catterick Garrison and a few miles south of Darlington. As well as a roundabout there is a hotel. Scotch Corner Hotel. When I was a kid and lived in Scotland and we were driving down to our granny’s in Norwich, we would drive via Penrith over the Pennines to Scotch Corner, then down the A1. Once, we stopped off at this hotel for my mum and dad to have a pot of tea. I thought it was posh. It isn’t, or at least it isn’t now. John Hirst and I pulled into the Scotch Corner Hotel about 30 minutes ago; it was gone midnight. We had to hammer on the door for some time before the night porter came. We negotiated a deal on a couple of beds.

I am now in my room, cup of tea on the bedside cabinet, notebook open, pencil in hand and this feeling that a book is coming on is getting intense. The book will draw in all the strands of thought that have led me to instigating The17. And why we may be about to enter the most exciting time in the history of music in the lifetime of anybody alive on the planet today. In it I will also document my attempts to have performed all 17 of the scores I’ve written for The17. The vague and untrustworthy discipline of memoir-writing will be used to explore and make plain my arguments. So there may be a lot of reaching back to past years, trying to work out what it is that music means to me and how I’ve got to this point where I am now, where I seem to have this urge to discard everything that has gone before. The technology to record music that evolved over the 20th century, and liberated it in so many ways, now feels like an entrapment. An entrapment that is preventing it from moving forward. Hence the statement ‘All recorded music has run its course’ that is there in my head clamouring for attention most mornings when I wake up. I want music to break free of these shackles left over from the 20th century and not just for the Wire reading new music elite, but for anybody who cares to take part.

Tomorrow morning John Hirst and I will be on a ferry sailing out of the Tyne on to the North Sea. The book writing proper will start then. I will give myself 12 months to get it done. Not that I will be writing all the time, just when moments make themselves available as I get on with the other things in life. The remit will be left loose, I’ll just see what comes out of the pencil, just as long as it somehow defines The17, how I got here and where music might be going.

Another sip of tea, another thought. I will make a pact with myself: I will come back to the Scotch Corner Hotel on this very date in 2007, check myself into a room, read everything I’ve written over the previous 12 months, toss out anything that seems irrelevant, and put what is left into some sort of order. That will be the book.

And this book will also be a gauntlet flung at your feet. Pick it up and rise to the challenge to make or at least embrace music that supersedes or even makes redundant what I am setting out to do with The17.

WARNING: If you are hoping this book will investigate the more high-profile moments of my progress, DO NOT read any further.