James Weeks: Signs of Occupation

Microsoft Word - 28559itunes.doc

Avant-garde composer Weeks is trying to make mundane, minimal music. “Occupation” is used in the sense that Weeks occupies our time by filling that time with music, and occupies the musicians, filling their time by giving them something to do, rather than asking them to play actual music. Landscape, occupied by man in another meaning of the word, also features.

The best way to listen is to occupy oneself with a task while listening, letting Weeks occupy the silence that would otherwise exist. Sitting listening attentively to write a review — ie otherwise UNoccupied — is perhaps not the best way to approach it.

“Looping busker music” is what it sounds like, the sounds of various instruments accompanied by taped ambient noise of the street. The first section opens with jarring violin, accordion and clarinet, with a guitar (we think) being hit rather than played. It is fairly discordant but not annoyingly so and soon settles down to a more background sound.

With Three Trios for Violin, Cello, Piano and Tape, Weeks tries to produce music that simply marks time passing, using a limited range of pitches and rhythm. Obviously, there’s a metronomic quality in places to this.

The title track is set to a poem by James Wilkes about landscape — Wilkes has a Phd that seems to involve linking landscape and literature, and his spoken words are accompanied by Andrew Spurling’s clarinet, the music the opposite of the regularity of the previous tracks, the instrument starting and stopping while Wilkes reads.

Digger is another piece that links words and landscape, this time wonky acoustic guitar and words about the Diggers, a group of Protestant radicals and proto-anarchists. The music is based on the writing of Gerrard Winstanley, whose followers were known as True Levellers and, later, Diggers, because of their attempts to farm on common land, wanting to make the earth “a common treasury”.

Closing piece Common Ground is more pulsing and droning, this time violin, viola and cello, which are strummed and plucked, the instruments representing three people independently moving over a landscape. Each player has the same music, but chooses which order to play it.

It’s an interesting CD, music pared back to the minimum. Worth investigation if you’re adventurous. The poet Wilkes is also worth investigating: in a sample of his work we found a “medical questionnaire”, Wilkes answering the question “Have you suffered an injury? If so state when and how?” with “THE ABUSE OF POWER HAS LITERALLY COST ME AN ARM AND A LEG. THIS WAS MANY YEARS AGO NOW. WITH MY WRITING HAND I STRIKE AND STRIKE OUT.”

This CD is out on Metier, MSV 28559. Weather A System is the book in which Wilkes’s poem appears.

This CD:

The book:

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