The band and I play the whole of this, from start to finish, at Folk on the Lawn this coming Sunday (July 14th) on the River Stage at Folk on the Lawn.
‘Quantum Spin’ (Track 8): When much, much younger – when at university, in fact, and trying to make sense of subjects utterly unrelated to physics – I read just a book or two (or, perhaps, sections of a book or two) on quantum theory. While, it seemed, biological determinism of the most deprived kind can lead to limited/limiting world view (‘lumbering robots’), quantum theory returns us to a mysterious, yet to be fathomed, universe, where small things have possibly indeterminable lives of their own.
‘Spin’ is a concept within quantum theory: part of the understanding that physicists were gleaning during the first quarter (or so) of the 20th Century. Certain particles, it as suggested, (mathematically, within theoretical physics) ‘spin’, though ‘spin’ is an analogous concept, referring not to actual spin but to certain (predictable) angular momentums around the atom’s nucleaus.
All this led to Wolfgang Pauli, an Austrian physicist, who was the author of the ‘Pauli exclusion principle’, regarding ‘spin’ (where certain electrons – fermions – could not share the same quantum space with the same electron). What was interesting about Paul, also, was his correspondence with Carl Jung. They exchanged many letters. Jung referred to Pauli’s dreams in some of his books and lectures. Pauli was intrigued by Jung’s conception of the notion of personal consciousness, the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. There is much on the internet about all this (Google it. I have).
Pauli looked towards a link between the physical (for him, the quantum) and the psychological world. He seems to have shared Jung’s idea of ‘synchronicity’ (though he called it ‘meaningful-correspondence’: a link between the psychological state of a person’s mind and activities taking place in the world.
I don’t know what to make of all this, but, sometimes – especially in the world of music/creative discourse – an pen and curious state of mind is more exciting and productive than a closed one. (Interestingly, there was also a ‘Pauli effect’, whereby Pauli, even at a distance (!), seemed to interfere with or break equipment used by experimental physicists in their labs!).
More recently (within the last couple of years), I have been reading many of the books of Japanese author Haruki Murakami. How to understand Murakami in total is beyond me, but his writing is, I think, wonderfully freeing and highly compelling. We become entwined with the (magical realism) of the world he (often) presents. This passage was particularly interesting (from ‘Men Without Women’, a collection of short stories): ‘He picked up a metal pot and poured coffee into a white ceramic cup. The pungent fragrance recalled something to him. It didnot come directly, however; it arrived in stages. It was a strange feeling, as if he were recollecting the present from the future. As if time had somehow been split in two, so that memory and experience revolved within a closed cycle, each following the other. He poured a liberal amount of cream into his coffee, stirred it with his finger, and drank. Although the coffee had cooled, a slight warmth remained. He held it in his mouth before warily allowing it to trickle down his throat. He found that it calmed him to a degree’.
So…the song draws on all these things, in a very unpredictable way! When playing the song, I have always altered the lyrics, from performance to performance – and I don’t plan to sing one lyric or another when the song is started, as some sort of tribute to the ‘quantum act’.
The album was conceived – or the prospect of it described – initially at a party on New Year’s Eve. There was talk of an approach to making a record that was quite different from that of the last few albums, which were assembled bit by bit over many months (and, in the case of the very last, two years) and in a number of different recording spaces, but mainly at home. We spoke of doing something relatively raw and as live as possible: a live space, with musicians all playing together; possibly an acoustic piano.
I had an album’s worth of piano songs. The notion was hatched of, within a pre-determined and fixed time-frame, learning these songs before going into a studio to record them.
And so it was: from January to March, we rehearsed weekly, mainly together, with the also band listening to (and therefore bringing edits to) and working out parts in the comfort of their own homes. There were twelve songs in all. Two were discarded, one by Jem (as he felt it sounded like an inferior of another song), and another because it was a piano/acoustic guitar song, not fitting with the rest of the album’s arrangements and not being of a quality that the band were convinced to do it anyway.
Part of the reason for recording with a band is that each member brings something of themselves to the process and, particularly, to the sound. I can play (mainly in a quite basic way) a number of instruments, but, on any instrument, the most simple thing that I may play – say an A minor chord on a guitar – will sound different to someone else doing it. I was tired of hearing my A minors on recordings! I wanted to hear what others would bring to a set of songs that had been written relatively quickly (in this way, more akin to my writing in the 20th than the 21st century…with the only difference being a refashioning of words right up to the recording, rather than going with the first thing that dripped from the pen).
The recording session had Ju, Andy and I in one room – with Mike – and Jem in a room (the garage) below. There was not, however, much eye contact, as I remember, between those in the upper space, but we had rehearsed with piano to the wall, so this was what we were used to. Mike was asked to record everything, with the first takes best understood as run throughs as we adjusted to the headphones we were all wearing: it takes a while to get used to the sound coming through these rather than travelling through the air. Nevertheless, at least one track (see previous ‘Fact’ came from these first takes.
The lack of eye contact and Jem’s absence from the room led, clearly, to the coming into prominence of primitive telepathic capabilities as, in ‘Mindful Attachment’, the very last note (where each instrument plays a single ‘hit’ together) is the live capture (i.e. not moved post-recording); something we had not managed in any of the rehearsals!
Pamela Wyn Shannon sings on ‘Don’t Be Hard on the Whisky’ and ‘Mindful Attachment’. Just Google Pamela to see and hear the rich and varied musical projects she has authored.
I met her many years ago, when a shared love of the music of the Incredible String Band led to a gig together on a visit Pamela made to Wales from her native USA. We have more than kept in touch ever since: Pamela becoming, for a time, ‘the only American [ever] in the village’ (‘Did you see the American in the library/shop/post office/walking that dog?’) before, more recently, obtaining ‘Cymraes’ status!
The ‘Whisky’ song is essentially a pastiche – a take of sorts on an American country ballad. Being dismayed, often, by musicians/singers local to me who enunciate in an American accents (sounding like they come from Nashville rather than Nant-y-glo), I wanted a true American accent on this track. Pamela does a wonderful job…and how to deliver certain words (for example, I pronounce ‘matter’ with hard ‘t’s; Pamela as an ‘r’ – verse 3) together with the inadequacy of the pastiche (there is no ‘tee-total’ concept in America – verse 2; the spelling of the ‘fine liquid’ of the title is the Scots/Irish rather than American one) were brought – figuratively and literally – to the mix by her also.
The face featured as the prime artwork of the album is a photograph of a sculpture. Julie came across it in an antique shop in Newcastle Emlyn some years ago and, long before it was considered as the album cover, sent me an image of it. It had a startling similarity to my own appearance when I was in my 20s. Ju and partner, Mike, had named it ‘Jon’ and hung it on a toilet door (hmmm…). Various speculations arose as to what it was all about: was it the creation of a fan from the time or, more likely we thought, a plastercast voodoo doll?
The image seemed to fit, however, both with its surface connection with the album title and with another theme of the album: the construction and influence of past selves (Listen to ‘The Murder’, especially – but more on this song in another ‘Fact’).
One lyrical theme on the album is the idea of the person we are at any one time (or, indeed, the person we were, whether last few or decades ago) being revealed – to oneself – via dialogue, within relationship.
I had been reading two books written/co-written by Jeremy Holmes: ‘Attachment in Therapeutic Practice’ and ‘John Bowlby and Attachment Theory’. These had an influence. For example, in the former (p. 91), there is a section that relates a tale from Wagner’s ‘Die Walküre’ – ‘finding the self in conversation’ – where Wotan (ruler of the gods), speaking with his daughter, Brunnhilde, about a moral turmoil he faces (you’ll have to Google it!), says, ‘I only talk to myself when I talk to you’. This illustrates what can happen when there is relational security, whether that be between parent and child or two adults (for Holmes, within a psychotherapeutic relationship).
Through such conversation, the realm of what the self is intriguingly and (possibly) beautifully enlarges. Though I can’t find where (and so I may have made it up), Holmes, I believe, cites this poem by Hafiz, the 14th century Persian poet:
The small man
builds cages for everyone
While the sage,
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
There are a few references to this sort of thing throughout the album, and perhaps most explicitly, in a verse on the last track: ‘Mindful Attachment (on the Sinking Ship)’.
Now, all this may be much less interesting to you than the fact that the snare drum was recorded with a Shure SM57 microphone (which it was), that Julie played a modified Telecaster (she did) or that Andy had re-strung his bass for the recording (he had), but please do either download the album anyway – or wait until the (more expensive) physical copies are available!