Baynes and Bateson

Filed in Episode 3, Uncategorized by on December 21, 2016 0 Comments

Back in November we said goodbye to a lovely guy and one of the finest musicians I’ve ever played with, Ifor Baynes. Most people who’ll read this have probably never heard of him. Would that the world were different.

 

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Ifor actually died in April but this was a memorial organized by some of his closest friends on what would have been his 65th birthday. I was lucky enough to be one of those who got to pay him a musical tribute. Jan Schellink, the third member of our trio with Ifor, What The Cat Dragged In, put together a montage of some of our recordings and we played sparsely over it, putting the emphasis on letting Ifor’s voice be heard (his percussion work as well, of course). This is it.

 

Ifor suffered from disability nearly all his life but “suffer” is not really a word one associates with Ifor. He took his life for what it was, lived longer than he had expected and brought inspiration and joy everywhere he touched one of his vast array of percussion bits and pieces – or just smiled at you.

Making music together

What did it feel like to make music together with Ifor? Well, it could be subtle and mysterious with a myriad of small noises or it could swing like the clappers. Or at least he could. He picked you up and swept you along, not in the constraining way that some drummers do. He liberated you, let you fly. He brought dance rhythms into the (ostensibly) most unlikely contexts, picking up on the subtleties of what others were doing and weaving that into a pattern. He did things that came seemingly out of nowhere (as witness the montage above) and totally changed what you felt, what you experienced in the music you were making – without necessarily changing what you were playing. It just gave it another meaning. And he made you laugh. Music never got over-serious when Ifor was around.

And that worked for listeners as well. Even when the rest of the music was uncertain and searching, Ifor gave you something to hook onto and float away with.

In that sense Ifor was a beautiful example of what makes for beautiful music.

Music and mind

Music doesn’t originate in the conscious mind. It comes from somewhere deep within you, in what Gregory Bateson called the Primary Process. Technique and craftsmanship too, come from the same place. You may learn your skills and your theory through a rational process but, in order to use them to make more than technical music, they need to have found their way down into that deeper place. It’s no different with the “carpenter’s eye” or any other creative process.

But a musical performance involves more than just the minds of the musicians.

Bateson’s daughter, Nora, writes “In the space between the instrument, the musician, the notes, the audience, and silence, the song arrives.” I would extend that (and I think Nora would too) to the whole ecosystem in which the music is performed: the technicians, the performance space, the auditory and visual elements brought by both of those, indoors and out – and if it’s outdoors then the other living beings present too. I don’t know about concert music (the “classical” tradition), because I’ve never been a performer in that space but I do know it’s true for pretty much any form of “popular” music, even if not a note is improvised. How an audience reacts, how they participate (e.g. dancing), the atmosphere, the visible surroundings, can change something intangible but fundamental in the performance as a whole.

What’s actually happening here illustrates Gregory Bateson’s concept of mind as something of which each individual is only part. As individuals we experience ourselves as the centre of that mind and of course we are most aware of our part of it. The extent, however, to which we are (in our primary process) aware of the rest of the mind has an effect on the music we make.

Improvised music is very interesting from this perspective.  When it works it’s very much about a mind that is not so much more than, as completely other than the sum total of the individual musicians’ “minds”. Something happens, something develops that is certainly not just the conscious adjustment of the individuals to each other or to a change in what one of the group is doing. It’s about the totality and the feeling/atmosphere/soundscape that develops and that is what you, as an individual musician, immerse yourself in and interact with.

Music and the natural world

Our excessive focus on the rational mind and dismissal of other forms of knowing creates a gulf between us and the rest of life. If it’s the rational that separates us from other species, then it’s the sub-conscious that connects us to them. As I noted in my previous post, Bateson saw the arts or any creative act as a way of breaking through this, because creativity springs from the primary process and brings us into that wider concept of mind. That’s certainly true of music.

 

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Sable Border Collie sitting and howling.

 

 

That doesn’t by the way, mean that the music we make is experienced as such by other creatures. My dog used to howl when I played my bass clarinet. And I really don’t think she was singing along.

 

Ifor had a dog as well but I don’t recall it having trouble with his music. That probably says something too.

 

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