Alba album notes
The Muse is Gone
Find My Way
Every Animal Dies Alone
The Muse is Gone
'The muse' is an exploitative misogynistic construct that should be consigned to history as quickly as possible.
Reading time: 5'
Notes: the muse
'The muse is gone' is a statement which at first evokes a feeling of sadness; because the muse has gone, now the artist is no longer able to create great art. Nothing could be further from what I mean.
'The muse', in our received cultural heritage, and as part of a creative process, is first and foremost a thing, not a person. It is embodied by a woman, yes. But it is not the woman. Instead, it is the objectification of that woman, whose worth lies only in that which it offers in relation to the -usually white, male, heterosexual- genius. The woman exists, for sure. But we do not know her name, nor anything about her, nor is anything about her of any importance, except in relation to the man and what she does for him. Once we have acknowledged her as a thing -a useful, inspiring thing, we turn our attention to the man, who is not objectified, admire him as a great creator, and dispose of the woman, who is of no more use to the process.
This dynamic is problematic from a number of standpoints. Firstly, as an act of objectification of the woman as described above, negating her name, her personal qualities, and any and everything that does not have to do with her servicing the man.
Secondly, among the things this dynamic negates, is the woman's own ability to create. The dynamic is not interested in hearing what the woman has to say. Or more accurately, the dynamic is actively interested in not hearing what the woman has to say: just what she offers the man, whether by looking pretty, sexually, or other, usually non-intellectual, means. Contained within what the woman has to say -which neither the artist nor those who admire him while enabling this dynamic- is what she has to express in artistic terms, if she so chose to use that route. Negating considering the woman specifically as a creator, while including her as an active participant in the creative process to the exclusion of her artistic, personal and human qualities, further serves to reinforce the imbalance.
Thirdly, the dynamic further enables the propping up of the man as a perceived artistic genius, to the denial, and belittling of everyone else, including the muse, the public, and the promotional machine. These all fade into a crowd, while the artist creates and intersperses into his oeuvre other, non-muse related art, all of which adds to the 'genius package'. The artist's brand has grown, aided, and boosted, by his muse-inspired work. The muse's visible influence ends at the works she has inspired, but the public's eye is drawn to the entire oeuvre, whose cachet has been upped by the help of the muse's influence. The artist's cachet rises. The muse's falls further into oblivion.
Fourthly, it reduces the 'genius man artist' to the level of a substance abuser. If his creative powers are awakened by the muse, his genius to create these, and other artworks, is dependent not on what he draws from inside himself, but on being able to get, like an addict, his 'hit' from the muse. This is the 'sadness' situation described at the start of this article. Like an athlete taking a performance-enhancing drug, the artist is not as strong, creative, and powerful within himself as he is with the help of an outside substance, in this case, the use of another person. This is an evocative setting for anyone wishing to romanticise such artists and dynamics, but from a perspective of personal worth, it leaves both the artist and the member of the public who buys into this notion, in a very poor light.
All the above is not to say that a man can't or shouldn't be inspired by a woman. They can, and are, and these roles can also be reversed. And also, men and women can, and many are, involved in toxic, dependent, and abusive relationships. Some of these people create art. Some people not in this kind of relationships also create art.
My point is that 'the muse' -the objectification of one person, usually a woman, as a tool for the creation of art by another not objectified one- is a sick, patriarchal, outdated, dynamic which is unnecessary and indeed unwanted in a society for anyone who believes in true parity between fellow human beings, regardless of their gender, race, and other potentially divisive considerations. The muse is not necessary to create great art, be the artist female, male, or of any other gender. Another person can inspire something in us, certainly, to create great art, without them needing to be objectified and discarded. But this is not 'the muse'.
My song 'The Muse is Gone' celebrates this equality between people of all genders. We celebrate a future (and for some of us, the present, in our current creative and social practices) when the concept of 'the muse' -like other damaging patriarchal dynamics- is past; and that men, women, and others are equal partners in every field. The muse is gone. Time to celebrate, and move forward.
Ubiquitous notions in the West such as the 3-act play (presentation/conflict/resolution), the symmetrical phrase (4 bars question + 4 bars answer), and the distinction between comedy and tragedy, can all be traced back over 2,000 to ancient Greece. These blueprints uphold art from Marvel films to Shakespeare to Ed Sheeran and the Beatles.
Greece, bedrock of democracy and philosophy, was also nonetheless a place of slavery, where foreigners and women had no rights, nor public voice. We must come to realise, and mark, that the notion of a symmetrical musical phrase, for example, was borne out of this same sexist, racist patriarchy that also heralded positive ideas, such as democracy and melos.
It follows that if we wish to do something about moving away and into new, different, potentially better territory, from the predominantly white, binary, male, heterosexual, ableist society we currently live in, a plurality of voices and viewpoints must be at the root. Any and all expressions which actively seek to move away from established canons borne out of such a society can only mean that another way of being has managed to express itself and hopefully, to be heard.
This is why the melody of ‘The Muse is Gone’ starts not with the aim of setting up an 8-bar phrase, but by offering one possible alternative: hanging on to a single note for as long as possible, until the suspension is no longer tenable, and the note must move away. When it does, the pent-up tension is so strong that it necessitates dragging the harmony along with it. And now we are in new territory; the melody finding its way organically, without counting bars or measuring lengths, to a dovetail into the next, 14 flowing bars in all.
The middle section is possibly the most sexually explicit music I have ever written. Far before the intellectual complexities of 20th-century time signatures, music happened and still happens, largely in a 2-stroke movement: down/up, left/right, /forward/backward. Many have put this down to us having two legs, in the same way that our 10 fingers correlate to a counting system of base 10. We walk, run, march, jump, dance, and screw in 2-stroke movements. This is not to say, of course, that women don’t partake in the 2-stroke movement, but the vast majority of artistic output has been since time immemorial in the charge of men, largely due to opportunity or lack thereof: men have largely had, and women have largely not had, the opportunity to be educated, to perform, to inhabit spaces freely, to act, to speak. The archetypical tribal ceremony the world over may feature female and/or male dancers, but it is the men who have overwhelmingly been in control, in the proceeding’s drumming driving seat.
The central part of ‘The Muse is Gone’, then, belongs more to the patriarchy, or at least to received masculine notions of masculinity and gaze. The inevitable lapse into symmetrical phrases, the dripping, oozing violin lines, compounded with the increase in intensity, plus the layering of voices and final culmination, are self-explanatory.
In the final third, and as with Botticelli’s post-coital aftermath in his ‘Venus and Mars’, virile tunnel vision has all but dissipated, and the new, non-threatening alternative sings once more.
Abu Dhabi Blues
The oil economy will only disappear when it goes bankrupt: when we are prepared to subsist without its advantages.
Reading time: 5'
Notes: travel diary
A concert I once played in one of several oil-economy-based middle-Eastern countries I’ve visited, which here shall remain nameless, involved signing a confidentiality agreement whereby I am to this day not allowed to say where I performed, nor to whom. I saw the faces of the audience and recognised some of them, but neither the hosts nor the foreign guests wished it to be known that they were enjoying themselves cushily together in such a setting.
In order to get to the location, our group was driven in a coach down the motorway for a period of time. The coach then took a turn off the motorway, driving through working oil fields. At some point, the driver stopped, got out of the vehicle, and left us there in the middle of the desert. His authority to drive expired at that marker. Presently another vehicle came toward us from the direction we were driving towards, a new driver stepped into our coach, and we continued our journey further and into the destination complex, where we were greeted by military personnel clutching machine guns, and smiling catering personnel.
Outside this experience, the rest of the tour was streets better than what one usually experiences on tour. Normally tours seem glamorous experiences to the general public, but in reality, are hard graft of travel and work under difficult conditions. They are usually very tough, not just for the players and staff physically, but also for our families back home. But on this occasion, as with all tours I have done to oil-based countries without exception, we stayed at a pleasant holiday resort, the food was sensational, there was a swimming pool and a small private beach, and there was no more travel, as the other concerts were all close by.
Tours to territories such as Europe, Japan, and the USA have nowhere near the level of luxury (I’m including basics such as time and well-being as ‘luxury’ items here) as in the Middle East. The economies of the more regular touring destinations prohibit it. Our group loved staying in this resort, being well-fed, and being given the chance to be rested, all of which contributed to performing to the best of our ability in public and private concerts. No one wants global warming, and the secrecy around that private concert was a bit weird, but hey, everyone agreed, the goodies on that tour were fabulous, right?
Different tours, different oil-based countries. One common denominator is alcohol is either restricted or banned for locals. Not so, apparently. Hotel lobbies were never empty of men, supercars parked outside, who in the middle-Eastern equivalent of a pub crawl, would hop from hotel to hotel getting more and more drunk, diligently and discreetly served by staff.
Other restrictions were interesting. Some of us befriended a band at the local Irish pub. Our query about whether we could bring our instruments to play with them was met with horror by the band and the manager, who explained to us that they could all potentially lose their licenses if unlicensed (for a particular venue) musicians performed even one note.
Extreme as that seemed -Irish pubs welcome this kind of thing the world over- and acknowledging that each country has its own right to its own rules, the incident did make me pay more attention to other limitations: women were legally allowed to drive, yet hardly any did. Women were allowed to work, yet we only came across men working, except occasionally in catering. Women, never alone, were only ever seen in numbers in the shopping malls. These patterns repeated themselves in different places, on different tours.
It has always been very, very difficult, or impossible, to see ‘on the other side’ of the wall erected to ‘welcome’ the foreigner. Like a living Truman Show, I have really wanted to connect with the locals, to see how people live, shop for basic needs, and go to school. But this is totally out of bounds. I must stay in my resort and enjoy the fabulous food, alcohol, pool, and 200 channels on TV, and the obligatory tourist-facing trip to the mosque and market; who be stupid enough to ever wish for anything else when provided these riches? But, I ask myself, ‘where is the real country, the real people’s lives here?’ The society and space are constructed so that these people, these lives, remain perennially hidden, inaccessible, and invisible, becoming almost Morlocks to the Eloi, who are shown only the shop window, hermetically framed by glass and concrete.
This package is for me disturbing. I cannot isolate the fact that the luxuries and comforts enjoyed by myself and my colleagues come from the same source that drives the planet beyond the point of no return for the extinction of some animal and plant species, loss of livelihoods, poverty, and famine that are with no shadow of a doubt to come.
I cannot separate the fact that these societies where liberties are so strongly demarcated by resplendent shopping malls are run by men, men who promulgate an exploitative economy while their women, as fellow human beings their equals in every respect, are not treated as such. Their Western partners, because they’re partners, are equally guilty.
I am reminded of the ‘Tales of the 1,001 Nights’, a poorly written loose collection of stories, but of imagery that still captivates Western imagination, where the thousands-year-old mirage of monetary success equates to success in life and happiness. Criticism of this fallacy is answered with accusations of jealousy; surely the only reason why you think this is not the way to go, is because you have not achieved this level of ‘success’ and riches, which is everyone’s goal even if they don’t wish to admit it! Surely you must be trying to reduce the cognitive dissonance caused by wanting to, and not being, rich?
No. The planet is burning. Literally burning. All over the world, women’s spheres of action, rights, and voices continue to be constrained. Racism is alive and being fuelled further. The economy of continued human and natural resource exploitation isn’t working.
But look at that cool car!
Abu Dhabi Blues is actually a very authentic track. It illustrates perfectly the dichotomy described above.
There is plenty that is also musically and humanly authentic: the 12-bar blues sequence; the evocation of Middle-Eastern ‘otherness’ in a language that Western audiences can understand, without stepping all the way into actually authentic folk music; the fact that the opening improvisation and all violin lines are ‘Take 1’, as I wanted the ‘voice’ be actually true, with its warts-and-all imperfections in the opening improvisation, so that there is at least one thing in all of this which is not glossed over, like the character of ‘the native’ in Aldous Houxley’s ‘Brave New World’.
Aesthetically, the harpsichord seems to add to the cultural confusion but is a deliberate choice, a reflection that fusion does not necessarily have to mean the superficial East-meets-West preservation and interaction of separate boxes. Rather, a richer kind of fusion can be brought about by integrating into this type of crossed paths (blues, faux-Middle Eastern, virtuosic violin playing) an instrument that belongs to an altogether different environment, and in so doing, also referencing an even wider musical world containing Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ and ‘Handbags and Gladrags’ as performed by Stereophonics.