I have been lucky enough to attend 2 Distil residentials now and also Distil Electronic. I have not yet written any blog about any of my experiences so this is gonna be packed with tails of exploration, inspiration and innovation! The first Distil I took part in (Distil 10 in 2009) featured the composer Stephen Deazley, singer fiddler performer Carina Normanson and improviser Ken Hyder.
I found working with Stephen to be inspiring in a really comfortable way. He seems to be able to coax people out of their shells without much effort. Carina was a lovely energy to be in and around whereas Ken was almost the opposite. Both in a really good way. Ken was brash and quite unforgiving which brought out a spiritual side of me that I hadn’t really listened to before then. Corina allowed me to be who I am and not really have to explain myself.
I came away from Distil 10 with a new found confidence in my own ideas and compositions. A lot of other things happening around that time also helped such as Borders Tunesmiths and a few bands that were writing new material. The main things I took away from that weekend, though, were a great respect for “the Deaz” and a desire to work with him in the future, but also the knowledge that if you gather a group of like-minded musicians in a neutral and comfortable space then magic and creativity can really take place.
Distil Electronic was a bit of an experiment for Distil. I was glad to be a part of it but I have some suggestions as to how it may be better set out. Tigerstyle are a great team of producing artists. They know their stuff where Electronic music is concerned and they do some really sensitive stuff with modernising Bhangra music. They took the workshops in the same way they would take a workshop for highschool kids. This suited some of us but not all of us. The problem here was that some people had previous experience of varying levels with electronic programming and basic use of sound programs such as Logic, ProTools and Cubase (this is what they used) and others had very little. They had a bunch of PCs that they use for education stuff and they taught us how to use it. Which was fine, we couldn’t really get into the nitty gritty of it though, which frustrated them and us alike, I think.
If it was to happen again, which I really think it should, then there should be two levels where you have people with a bit of knowledge in it in one group and the other with people who just need to learn how to use the programs on offer. There should be a range of computers available, mac is really the musicians’ friend just now and that should be on offer because the operating systems are quite different. It would be good if the “Electronic Guru(s)” had experience in a few different methods of working. Although it was great to see how Tygerstyle did things with Bhangra samples and beats, it would be great to have the experience of recording, sampling and remixing folk roots stuff. Styles that are a bit closer to the world we currently work and write in. On the whole though, I think people did come away with a bit more confidence in using programs of any sort, however I know from talking to a couple of people that they didn’t get much out of it at all, nothing that they couldn’t have discovered on their own, perhaps, just because the rest of us were still faffing about with how to use the damned things!
Now, Distil 13! I managed, yet again, to squeeeze myself onto this one (finding out about it after the invites had gone out and asking if I could pretty please be involved). I’m glad I stuck my neck out. From my experience of Distil 10 I kind of knew what to expect from the simple act of gathering like-minded people in the same space for a few days. I also remembered what I took away from the last one into my working life. This was no exception. I had reached a lull in my creativity and was desperately searching for a way to start (continue) writing after a tough year where other things such as emotion and “life” got in the way! I’m glad the lull happened, to be honest, because it has encouraged me to refresh, restart, renew, reflect, realise, remember, resolve, reform etc etc! There was talk of the 3 Rs. We quickly found there were many more than 3 when we thought about it!
This on featured Kath Burlinson, Karen Wimhurst and Andro Biswane. They were all (as always) very inspirational people. Andro had us all exploring rhythm and notes using his amazing knowledge of African music, although originally from Suriname in the North of South America he studied classical music in Holland and used his ability to relate music to others in the “western way” to study African Music more closely. I loved working with him on rhythm which was the basis of his group workshops but in our one to one I wanted to gain some knowledge of soloing. I realised quite quickly that I am going to need more technical ability to enable me to have the confidence to use my musicality to create sweet melodic lines on command. I find it hard to convey my emotion through solos because I haven’t practiced it enough! He is brilliant at this. A few wee tips about pentatonic scales and things like that…and I’m on my way!
Karen was charged with getting us writing music that would be performed on the Sunday. I didn’t find this daunting at all until I tried to get people to play what I’d written. Everyone had kept their pieces quite simple but very effective. I went for really hard in terms of people playing with each other. Karen and I had the first one to one session of the weekend together. She helped me to explore a really tiny idea and gave me confidence to expand on it using nothing more than the knowledge I had already gained of compositional ideas. I was still exploring this on Sunday morning and the piece (although attempted very well) was not actualised which I am quite happy about. Everything I compose is workable, usable, changable and I’m glad the ideas I had over the weekend were explored. There’s a lot of work for me to do to get them ready for performance but I have the confidence to do so and I will.
Kath was exactly what I needed this weekend. I think she may have been what everyone needed this weekend! Her one to ones were a chance for us to call on the support of her extensive knowledge of a wide range of different types of performer. A few people also came out of her one to ones thinking that she had specific expertise in the path that they were on! After 3 initial exploratory questions to answer, she had me learning about myself, my potential and what to do to achieve it. We all ended up with a One Year Plan and a Five Year Plan that we had to actualise by saying out loud to the universe. Everyone got quotes from her massive font of quotes, quotes that related to us and our lives specifically, quotes that we made up ourselves in our own words, words form poems, and just words that people said. She uses language in a very direct but fluid way.
Everyone got a bit of help with how to be yourself when addressing an audience/crowd/group. How to be comfortable and relaxed and not too forward or brash, timid or weak. Just right.
I am really looking forward to the rest of my working life after this last Distil. I look forward to achieving my 1 year and 5 year plan goals and I can already feel myself refreshed and realigned and READY to continue on my path as a performer and composer in this Universe. Well done all. A really good bunch of people to be exploring the possibilities of music with. Thank you.