The Seagull Song

The evolution of a song. This started off two years ago as an exercise in lyric writing for an online course (MOOC) on songwriting by Berklee College of Music. The result of that exercise was a song called The Letter which was described at one open night as a sort of country & western reggae song. Then about 6 months ago I wanted to write something in the DADF#AD tuning that was a bit more exciting so I decided to use the words from The Letter. It still didn’t really work!

Then one evening I was with my songwriting mentor and friend Vincent Burke and he had a go at the lyrics while I was playing the guitar. Instead of ‘I’m sending you a letter’ he wrote ‘I’m sending you a seagull’ and then he also came up with a new chorus and a great verse – the one about sending you a song and the lines ‘maybe I’m a memory falling from the blue, memories can cut like glass, cut you through and through’. I liked what he had done and I really liked ‘the seagull’ but I had a problem with it making some kind of sense.

Then my birthday came along and an artist friend and swimming buddy called Pip Tunstill gave me a little present. It was a small white box and when you opened it up there was a seagull and the sound of the seashore. Synchronicity … serendipity … I then reworked the lyric so that it made sense (to me at least) and played the new version at a few open mics and at Dermot Jones’ 50th birthday party. It was beginning to make sense.

I kept fiddling and added a short guitar instrumental after the second verse and an outro at the end to tie up all the loose ends and then it seemed to be done. The Seagull Song. So many contributed to its creation which is rather lovely. 🙂

Quantum Dream Computing


Rothko at Tate Modern

Discussing dreams and quantum  mechanics with Nick and made a connection between the unconscious or subconscious and quantum computing. It goes something like this. The human brain often works out things while we are asleep. And it come up with insights in dream form. But you have to go to sleep and if you wake up prematurely you may not get the answer you are looking for.  Same with a quantum computer. So then I went to see the Rothko paintings at Tate Modern. They look very like the quantum particle experiment which showed that particles passing through a number of slits don’t fly straight but take on a wave form and create ‘Rothkos’. Strange synchronicity … another bit of Jung. Ah! It’s all beginning to make sense …

Life and death and the elephant


Nick and Jonathan, photographed by Flavio

My friend Nick has been reading Carl Gustav Jung’s biography, Dreams, Memories and Reflections, and particularly the final sections titled ‘Life after Death’ and ‘Last Thoughts’. The challenge set by Nick and Jung was to give serious consideration to life after death and then create a myth that made some sense of it.

The reason for so doing was because according to Jung, man’s evolution has been built around the myths of life after death. So to ponder and create one’s own myth might engender something positive. Not to do so impoverishes. Jung writes that ‘meaningless inhibits fullness of life and is therefore equivalent to illness.’

So what was Jung on about? One theme was that that the unconscious is very important but we have tended to ignore and concentrate on rational thought. He writes that dreams are ‘hints from the unconsciousness’ and he argues that ‘reason sets the bounds far too narrowly’.

One result of our dependence on reason is that to make sense of the power of the unconscious we have had to create god … or a daemon (in Greek mythology a genius, deity or kind of spirit), or mana (in Polynesian, Melanesian, and Maori an impersonal supernatural power).

Such entities are according to Jung, man’s creative confrontation with opposites.  And he suggests that we have been ‘robbed of transcendence by the short sightedness of super intellectuals’. Now our destiny is ‘creating more and more consciousness’ instead of ‘kindling a light in the darkness of mere being’.

‘People are only what they know about themselves’, a simple phrase but with enormous echoes and connotations.  And if we only use rational thought and never give serious consideration to our dreams and our myths then we are failing to engage fully with ourselves and life itself.

He develops his own myth when he writes: ‘through the achievement of an individual, a question enters the world to which he must provide some kind of answer’. He suggests that the psyche requires no space and no time and he describes his driving force in life as ‘a passionate urge towards understanding’.

And so to my myth-making. I am inspired by a talk called Nirvana and the Waterfall from Zen Mind Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. He compares an individual life to a drop of water in the Cathedral Falls in Yosemite National Park. It falls and then merges with the water below. That’s a sort of myth.

So what might my myth be?

I have a friend that you cannot see, you cannot touch, and who does not talk. But if I am quiet he comes bearing gifts and insights. He lives by the sea … or perhaps he is the sea of unconscious. I walk along his shoreline picking up flotsam and jetsam. Many things are washed up, examined and then  washed back out to sea where they float or sink beneath the waves. I make a point of visiting the beach, maybe looking for a message in a bottle. Sometimes I may even venture out into the water dive down and pick things up off the bottom.

I take it that when I am old and infirm I will come more often to this beach. And I will sit and watch the waves rolling in. See the flats bared as the tide pulls out and hear the seagulls soaring overhead. What happens to me when I die? I too am washed out to sea where I sink to the bottom. I hope that my loved ones will come and visit me in their dreams or in those quiet moments when they are on the seashore.

We talked of evolution and the part that we play in the process and the fact that everything is just the way it should be. And where is evolution taking us? Who knows! Nick was keen to play down our individuality while Flavio had a certain fondness for his self.

In the story of the blind men and the elephant, each man tells a different story after an encounter with the elephant. That’s because they have touched different parts of the elephant and can’t see the whole. Taking this one step further maybe we are hairs on the back of the elephant. We can’t see the whole elephant from the hair but where the follicle buries beneath the skin we become part of something bigger. As for the elephant, maybe he is the hair …

Some (useful) links:

On Life after Death by CG Jung: PDF
Dreams Memories and Reflections by CG Jung: PDF
The Art of Dying Well: A Jungian Perspective on Death and Dying: Blog post

Making Love, Music and Silence

Music and love making are supposed to be wonderfully spontaneous but are there things that you can do to ensure that everything comes together?

The Never Wilbys get together to play some music – Kitchen Hero from Jonathan Buckley on Vimeo.

I guess we all want certain things from the music we make together: harmonies, mindful jamming, order, live performances, to hear the sound of own voices. In the Never Wilbys, we share a love of playing and the end product ranges from the noisy to the heartfelt and beautiful.

Are we just looking for one night stands or do we want a relationship; to work a few songs up to the point where they are really tight and refined? For myself I think it would be great to really know and refine a few songs so that we could improvise and add to them confident in the knowledge that we truly knew them. We could give a performance that would delight everyone. But I also like the one night stands and playing new songs!

I did ask if anyone had any songs that they wanted to work up and we came up with a few. But how do we make that happen? My thought was that each of us should take responsibility for our song, make sure that we know it, and have some ideas on how the rest of the band might play it. Usually when we get together we just get on and play which is great. But I guess we all go away with ideas on what might work better: use silence more, work on harmonies, try not to speed up, etc.

How do you get a band to work together effectively? Constructive feedback can be good and recording what you play. I’ve tried to tone down my voice because listening to recordings made me realise that I have a tendency to bellow. And last time around Vince said I was ‘speeding up’ and Ben said I was not pausing in Venus. That is really helpful.

I do like the recordings because it’s difficult to hear how you sound when you are playing. And every now and then I actually like the recordings. From last time we got together I thought ‘Venus’ had a bit of a groove going and ‘Heros’ was really nice.

If I look back over some of the other recording it is when we  just kept going, jamming on something that we entered a whole new realm of music making. Its great because we start talking to each other musically. It’s more in the moment as opposed to linear progress through a song. And if we really knew our material it would be easier to more of that.

Some time back I did a blog post on David Byrne’s book How Music Works. I never knew that solos evolved because the band was hot, the dance floor was full and they needed to keep playing that popular section for the dancers. Byrne also notes that ‘tight’ doesn’t mean everyone plays exactly to the beat; it means ‘everyone plays together’: ‘the emotional centre is not the technical centre, that funky grooves are not square and what sounds like a simple beat can either be sensuous or simply a metronomic timekeeper’.

So maybe it’s more important to play ‘together’ than ‘in time; a bit like the difference between having a relationship and going on a date. As a relationship develops then there will be new levels of intimacy and the desire to ensure that the other person has a good time … or sounds good. I guess it might be about delaying one’s own gratification, control, rhythm, letting go of inhibitions, and really feeling the beat. If we are going to play together then perhaps we need to learn how to dance around each other, give and take, and communicate

And the other thought I had was that when we play together, we should make a point of performing John Cage’s Four minutes thirty three. Nothing like an empty cup to start off with.