William's Study (Diary Of A Hyperdreamer)
Wednesday 11th July 2007 -- 8:20 pm
It's been an intense few weeks. All of June spent working on music for an American documentary film about the visual design history of U.S. postal stamps. Ongoing too...until the end of July.
The subject of stamps is far more interesting than one might initially presume. The film, produced by a company called 'twenty2 product' in San Francisco (and funded by the American PBS TV network and the US Postal Service), is beautifully photographed and edited and features several interviews with the highly talented visual artists and designers who have been involved with postage stamp design over the years.
A wide range of subjects, including music, literature, science and art are covered by these stamps and each interview has required me to create an appropriate musical setting. 18 scenes or 'segments' in total but I've so far made approaching fifty tracks for the filmakers to select from. These are not fifty different tunes though but variations and mixes of perhaps 30 individual compositions. Still, it's been constant and intense work...12 hours per day on average and 7 days per week.
I'm feeling burned out at this point in time but I think I'm not too far from a conclusion of sorts. I've booked Fairview Studios on the 28th and 29th of July to master the final choice of music cues, once the film makers have made their selection. Everything has to be decided, completed and prepared by then.
The most challenging part of the work has been the attempt to create music that stays out of the way of the dialogue without becoming dull and ordinairy. Not easy as there is constant 'talking-heads' style narrative throughout the film. Some musical cues are very brief too, which means it's tricky to build musical dynamic tension over such a short period of time.
I'm currently working on two promotional-advertising clips for the project, trailers basically. One is 20 seconds long, the other 30 seconds. Not a lot of music in terms of time but just as much work as the longer pieces within the film, if not more so.
I also need to revisit some of the cues for which I've already created music, to see if I can bring even more alternatives to the table.
All this highly focussed and time-consuming work has confined me to my little studio room since the start of June. My social life has gone out the window. Emiko has seen much less of me too, as have the rest of my long-suffering family. It's taken a toll on my health and nerves, as is to be expected. Sitting hunched over keyboards and mixing desk for 12 hours a day isn't the healthiest of pusuits for a man approaching 60. My waistline has expanded again and stress levels have reflected the obsessive nature of the work. Can't be helped, I suppose. Part of the job and part of the challenge. But that old cliche, 'not as young as you used to be' applies perfectly.
I wonder if it will all be worth it in the end? Not in financial terms, (this isn't a Hollywood blockbuster, after all), but in terms of what the music adds to my 'canon.' I think there's an album to be got out of this, 'though it may be an unusual one. If I can gather the more interesting tracks together, there may be yet another aspect of my musical activity worth presenting to the public, beyond that of the music's function within the film.
I've already come up with an album title for this: 'PICTURE POST.' ('Picture Post' was the title of an old 1950's photo-journalistic magazine, here in the U.K.)
Despite my confinement to recording studio barracks, I did manage to attend my nephew Julian's wedding, a few weeks back. Julian is my late brother Ian's eldest son. He married a lovely girl, called Lindsay. They make a charming couple and it was good to see them surrounded by their friends who all wished them well.
The marriage ceremony and reception was held at Walton Hall near Wakefield. I'd not visited to Walton Hall before, despite growing up in the city. It's a remarkable old house, built on an island in a lake and surrounded by a beautiful tree-blessed landscape. Quite magical.
One of the pleasant side-effects of Julian's mariage was the fact that it gathered together what remains of the Nelson clan. Not a lot of us left, sadly. My eldest daughter, Julia, travelled up from London with my bright-star grandson Luke, (o.k, I'm biased), and my mother and my youngest daughter Elle and my son Elliot were there too. Also my sister-in-law Diane and my niece Lucy and nephew Louis and my Mum's husband George.
I only wish Ian could have been there to see his son tie the knot. It was a bitter-sweet occassion in that respect. Ian was aware of the date of Julian and Lindsay's wedding before he passed away. I know he was looking forward to it with his usual sense of warm bemusement. There were some poignant moments for us all when we missed Ian's prescence. It doesn't really get any easier, despite it being around 17 months since I last saw Ian. I don't imagine time will ever make much of a difference to the emptiness that has been left in the lives of his loved ones. And, yes, I will say it again, I miss him tremendously.
The world continues to roll by my window, indifferent to whatever plans or idealistic imaginings I might harbour.
Summer, for what it's worth, seems to have been a season of floods so far. Terrible suffering for hundreds of families in Hull, Doncaster and Sheffield. Freak conditions for this time of year? Global warming the cause? Whatever the conclusion, it's a major topic in the media and already a subject for 'live aid' style pop concerts.
But there's something hollow, something not quite right in our response to the problem. Hard to put into words but it's as if it's a kind of game, a fashionable badge to wear instead of a life and death issue. We're not doing anything near enough to redress the balance. Future generations will reap the terrible harvest of our casual attitudes, I'm afraid. Sometimes I feel as if the human race is a lost cause...Life fading fast on this bright blue pebble amongst the stars.
Another great British cultural icon has passed away. The vibrant, colourful, joyous bundle of atoms that was George Melly has finally 'gone fission.' I never met him, (though my brother Ian did), but I liked him tremendously.
George's great passions were jazz, surrealism, fishing, booze and sex. I'm somewhat fond of that sort of stuff too...but without the fishing. He was a bright, witty, intelligent and enthusiastic man who knew what wonders were hidden beneath the world's voluminous skirts. And he wasn't afraid to lift those skirts and have a good old lusty fondle. A bit mad and scary for some folks, our George. But for those of us who shared his wide-eyed hunger, he was definitely on the side of the angels.
His autobiographical trilogy, 'Owning Up' should be compulsory reading for all those who think life begins and ends with reality tv and pop music. A force for the good and the world poorer without him.
You'd think I'd have more to write about, considering how long it's been since the previous diary entry, but I haven't really got much else to say or the time to say it. Over the weeks I've made a mental list of topics to bring to these pages, but they've either faded from my memory or suddenly seemed inconsequential. It's all inconsequential really though, isn't it? Just babble...
A brief note though: The ongoing demise of record stores. The rather wonderful Track Records in York is sadly shutting up shop. A result of the downloading malaise that is slowly eroding the way we access music, I suspect. Even our local Borders store is selling off cd stock at silly prices and has cut back on its album racking space Seriously junked its stock of jazz and other non-pop/rock records too. Some say it's the future. But it's greed really, cheapness and laziness triumphing over magic. And another step towards conformity of taste. It will strip the truly creative leaves from the trees, leaving only a sterile and barren thicket of fruitlessness.
Thank goodness I'm not alone in thinking this. More and more critics and intellectuals seem to be coming 'round to the same conclusion. A recently published book presents the same argument: Basically it says that the internet is killing our culture and impoverishing truly creative musicians. There's too much plain old commodity and not enough treasure.
Soon, no one will want to choose music as a 'career,' unless they're very young and desperate for attention. There will simply be not enough in it, either financially or aesthetically. No one will care in the way that my generation cared. We're the last of the line. Music, as a career or lifestyle choice will devolve to the lowest common denominator. The moronic will hold sway.
What a marvellous prospect! Little enclaves of genuine music lovers meeting in secret, like Catholics at the gates of the reformation. The cathederals of record retailing in ruins, music as an illuminating force finally snuffed out in favour of free downloads, mediocre retreads and lousy sound quality...The enthusiast as the new outcast, an antiquated, nearly extinct species. Science-fiction's worst nightmares come home to roost and crouching at the foot of your bed, screaming.
I once wrote to the NME, back in the '70's, pre-punk, with a manifesto for a renewal of 'real' music, music that needed commitment, energy and intelligence. Music that you'd be prepared to risk your life for. I wrote this under the humerous guise of 'The New Music Liberation Front' and signed it 'Christian Spink.' I didn't really think the NME would publish it, but they did, in heavy type, surrounded by a black border to make it highly visible on their letter's page. I had my tongue planted partly in my cheek but also, so I hoped, on the erectile tissue of the spirit of rebellion.
There's nothing revolutionary about the current music industry, despite the dull, interminable trumpeting about so called 'new technologies.' It's just the same old tired, manipulative, nonsense, despite the gadgetry. Just another angle on the 'let's charm the pocket money out of kids sweaty hands' trick. Or, If we can't sell cds, lets flog 'em MP3 players, software, website subscriptions. Money for (very old) rope. People demanding music without any cost and an industry seeking profit without any risk.
It will, I predict, all end in tears.
No diary photo's this time. Too busy. When I get the film music completed, I'll hopefully find more time and energy for such things.