Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Out of Time: on 'Even On A Wednesday'

The first of a possible series of pieces about the songs on my new cassette/download album All Living Can Anyone Be Here

I was determined for this album to specifically not be my ‘lockdown record’, mostly as it was made in exactly the same place as most of my work, my studio at home, so the lockdown situation had little bearing on the conditions of its recording. However, the circumstances of the coronavirus became impossible to ignore and a couple of the songs inevitably reflect that directly. Looking back on this song now, from a point where lockdown is to be relaxed with Boris Johnson referring to the coming weekend as though it will be a kind of liberation, a 'Super Saturday', it's hard not to think that it could also be a super-spreading Saturday, and we might soon be plunged back into the kind of lockdown conditions imposed in March. Whether that would precipitate the experiences as recounted in this song all over again is unlikely, at that time the situation was pretty much unprecedented and it seemed all the more intense for it.

Set firmly in a domestic temporal context, the concerns of the song are signalled in its first line “...time here in the front room…”, and I’ll return to that in due course. But 'Even on a Wednesday' originated, in the first instance, before its coronavirus inspired concern with time and space arose, from my admiration for the Basque singer Mikel Laboa, in particular his 1969 song ‘Baga Biga Higa’, which for some time I'd harboured a desire to perform. 

Laboa starts the song in a somewhat hesitant, almost mournful tone, later becoming more animated. The lyrics are, on the face of it, somewhat simplistic, but also subject to some debate as to what might be their references and their interpretation, particularly in their translation from Basque, to Spanish.

“The lyrics do not have a logical translation, because in reality it is only a phonetic sequence . However, the following elements can be found: the first two letters of the first ten words (ba ga, bi ga, hi ga, la ga, bo ga, se ga, za i, zo i, be le, ha rma) coincide with the first two letters of each of the first ten numbers in Basque 4 (ba t, bi , hi ru, la u, bost, se i, za zpi, zo rtzi, be deratzi, ha mar). In addition the corresponding word bederatzi (nine) is bele (Crow) and the corresponding hamar (ten) is harma , meaning in Basque and Castilian match: gun , shot , bam! . Finally, it is possible to recognize the following Basque vocabulary: gerrena plat ( BBQ 5 and plate , in Castilian, 6 respectively), olio zopa (oil 7 and soup , respectively, 8), kikili salda (respectively chicken , with the sense of a coward , 9 and broth 10 ), edan edo klik (literally drink or swallow : edan is to drink , or absorb , 11 klik is the onomatopoeia of swallowing in Basque, 12 while edo is the disjunction or), ikimilikiliklik: tongue twister that includes the words above, kikili and klik.”  Wikipedia (auto-translation from Spanish)
So in essence the song could be thought of as a kind of counting song, however there is further discussion elsewhere that suggests that while it is indeed a kind of ‘nonsense’ poem, there could be more to it, there is some suggestion that it references occult activity, so that in addition to being a “…traditional phonic poem, based on onomatopoeic elements , without specific content. The numerical sequence 'bat', 'bi', 'hiru', 'lau' ..., becomes 'baga' 'biga' 'higa' 'laga'..., apparently used in rites of witchcraft, 'akelarres'.”  Also that it is “…a song to "pronounce", to train the child in a kind of pre-speech. The sense or meaning of the words is secondary". But it might also refer to “…covens, witches, potions ... Baga-Biga-Higa!” (Google translation from Spanish)

I have also been told anecdotally that Laboa’s use of the Basque language was in itself a radical act in Franco’s Spain; a simple children’s counting song used to smuggle in the language of a suppressed culture.

‘Even on a Wednesday’ doesn’t engage in the same kind of wordplay, or have such layers of possible contextual relevance, the Laboa song is primarily more of a musical influence, my melody in part follows his, but I do include a nod to it as a counting song in the lines “ two three four five six, lasting through the front room, everyday is Wednesday, seven eight nine ten...”, and to a children's nursery rhyme “…when the ticking clock, comes to a stop, dickory dock…”.

This also acts to introduce the theme of the relationship between counting time, clock time, and duration. The song is a reflection of how the subjective experience of both time and space became affected during the coronavirus crisis, when lockdown imposed a ‘virus time’ wherein the suspension of the usual demands of time, regulated clock time, such as regular work hours, have been abandoned. With this experience, exacerbated by the cessation of social activity and its attendant necessity for timetables and appointments, the measurement of time becomes more loose, if not completely abandoned. This is accompanied by a contraction of space, when everyone is obliged to socially isolate, to stay at home; it might as well be some uneventful time of the week, in a domestic setting, say Wednesday afternoon, all the time, even on a Wednesday. The extent of spatial experience becomes the distance from the front room to the bedroom, the cubic space of the kitchen, the front door becomes a boundary, the world beyond, the world outside, is a more dangerous place, a place to be avoided if possible. We are floating around our houses, on virus time, quarantime.  The confusion of time with its measurement is dismantled along with ‘just in time’ supply chains and delivery models, employment which dictates temporal conditions on workers, and of course ‘zero hours’.  Virus time is not clock time, it is zero hours all the time, now or perhaps some time on a Wednesday afternoon.

These experiences reminded me of the writing of Henri Bergson (1859 - 1941), which characterises duration as an unquantifiable continuous flow, as distinct from the more scientific conception which spatialises time. As a contemporary of Einstein, Bergson was critical of the idea of relativity, claiming that objectifying, regulating, mechanically measuring time, distorts the flux of consciousness, the subjective experience projected into space. For Bergson duration is qualitative, it is the continuum of ‘lasting through’ as experienced by a conscious subject. In bringing together these new spatiotemporal experiences, the recalibration necessitated by lockdown becomes a reflection of Bergsonian time and space; ‘Even on a Wednesday' reflects the subjective state of living inside the materialisation of this that the coronavirus brought with it.  (see Henri Bergson’s Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, 1889, and Duration and Simultaneity: Bergson and the Einsteinian Universe, 1922).

In constructing the music track I was particularly interested in the way Terry Riley, in particular in 'A Rainbow in Curved Air', 1969, constructs looping repetitive patterns which sound simultaneously as though they achieve a kind of stasis within duration. Unlike the more regimented repetition of the related music of Philip Glass and Steve Reich, there is a loose rhythmic loping quality, a not-so-strict meter, which might better reflect the experience of temporality as duration as distinct from mechanical time. I arranged samples of plucked arpeggio guitar chords over several rows in an Ableton Live grid. These were based around A minor and F, but juxtaposed with a number of other chords which when played together in different configurations produce differing and sometimes unpredictable discordance, particularly when enhanced with decaying looping effects. I recorded the song singing the lyrics while playing through the Live session sequence, which has the effect that the melody occasionally deviates from the chord structure. 

It is, in effect, out of time.

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