Music, place and change. Being somewhere else in lockdown.

I found Charlotte de Witte on YootYoob. She is a DJ from Belgium who has raised the profile of techno when, as one of the earliest forms of dance music, out of Detroit and Berlin, it got sidetracked a bit by superclubs and EDM. Her DJ set that I link to at the foot of the page connected with me. I found it very moving and captivating. It evoked a very clear sense of place, and I got to thinking about why this was.

My first intro to dance music proper was through trance, techno and the TEX CD series Trance Europe Express. Music was experienced as a journey. This track Trust (Suspicious Mindgear Mix) by Microglobe and the subsequent playlist is a perfect example. The title was a play on Kraftwork’s seminal 1977 world-changing album Trans-Europe Express. The title track and original is here.

At the time I lived in Tywyn, Wales, overlooking the sea in an upside down house, so my living room was upstairs overlooking Cardigan Bay, about 5 miles north of the place the header picture was taken.

One of my great joys was to open the big sliding doors onto our balcony and let the day go by outside and listen to TEX. The scene outside was in some ways always the same sea and sky. But over time it changed in an almost infinite number of ways. The changes could occur in seconds when the sun moved behind cloud, or minutes when rain came by, or hours as the weather changed, or over a day through sunrise and sunset, or weeks and months as the seasons changed.

Whatever was going on, somehow the TEX track playing seemed to mirror the change. I explored this more and found Indonesian gamelan music and the work of Phillip Glass, John Cage, Terry Riley, which was influenced by gamelan and other eastern music. All of this music iterates, or repeats simple musical phrases to create a whole. Work by these musicians and composers led to a whole classical musical genre called Minimal in which repetition is a core component.

Víkingur Ólafsson recently played Phillip Glass at the empty Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik and talked on radio 4 about the accusation, by detractors of minimal, that repetition is undesirable and boring. He talked about and demonstrated the ways in which repetition unlocks possibilities for development of music experiences.

Víkingur Ólafsson plays to an empty Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik

John Cage another minimalist is quoted as saying

“If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

John Cage

I am unsure how it does it but music which iterates always evokes a sense of place for me. Whether it was my experience of Wales I do not know, but minimalist music in all it’s forms seems to convey the depth of place in it’s being unchanging and repeating, at the same time as being infinitely changeable over a number of timescales, by the second, minute and hour. Minimalism unlocks something in me. I find within it, space and time, and a feeling of being still and moving at the same time. A kind of Moving Space, oddly enough.

This particular set by Charlotte de Witte I found particularly moving. She unlocked something in me from the first moments of the opening track. Like landscape, it repays patience. In the YootYoob comments, I wrote listening to it was “Like being on the edge of sleep then waking up to find yourself on a hilltop in the sun with the wind blowing then some animals arrive and start dancing and you join in and you then turn into an animal and go off with them and never mix with humans again.” I even knew which sunny hilltop, which is above Langholm, where I go to paint and draw.

de Witte is a young woman who is very skilled and passionate about what she does. I liked the idea that, 35 years after I discovered techno, she finds great pleasure in simple iteration and minimal form, like I did and still do. I am glad she took me to a mountain top and allowed me to give up being a human. Turn up the volume and enjoy being in another place in lockdown.

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