AT 8.30 on a Saturday morning in August 2014 start walking north from Northolt tube station up Mandeville Road then change your mind, cross the road and start walking south instead.
Turn left into Eastcote Lane and have a suitable breakfast in the cafe on your left.
Head down by Belvue Park towards an arguing Japanese man and woman under the trees. What are those dome-shaped mini-hills?
Get underneath Western Avenue and head for the mini-hills that you will later be told are made out of the old Wembley Stadium and are called Northala.
Click away to get a good shot but try not to disturb the man meditating on the smaller hill. Wave to the sponsored joggers.
Make a photo of a cluster of mushrooms on Kensington Road and a massive filthy pipe over the Grand Union Canal.
Decide suddenly to head all the way down Margaret Road to Southall. What is this type of housing? It’s the same as on your walk through Gant’s Hill. Must be post-war and it’s impressively, endlessly identical.
Briefly dip in to South Street at Southall and realise that this is the feel of Lewisham. So you were obviously drawn to here in much the same way. Go in and out of the small outdoor market off the High Street which feels just like Brick Lane did when it was still in the past.
Have a sit down and a look at your early 90s A-Z outside Southall Park. Decide to go up Oakwood, Waverly, Burns, Telford, Edison and then Fleming.
Enjoy the name Dormer’s Wells. Say it out loud: “Dormer’s Wells, Dormer’s Wells”.
Left for 200 yards up Greenford Road, cross over and down that inviting little path into Brent Valley Golf Course. Take a 360 degree panorama with the Nikon on the bridge over the Brent River.
Be irresistibly drawn into the freshly cut path to your left even though you know it’s going to be a dead end. Follow it to the huge expanse of cut down grass called Bittern’s Field. Click away then return to the bridge.
OK, that was a brilliant detour but now head into a different type of housing, probably less poor, down High Lane and Bridge Avenue. In Beechmount respond with equivalent cheerfulness to the friendly man who bids you “good morning” over his gate because that’s getting so rare. Wonder what his job might have been now he’s retired. Worry about the fact that you haven’t got one.
Have a coffee in Bordars Road. When that skinny snake eyed teenage man gives you a momentary look which speaks of mistrustful ignorance, respectfully nod and say “how do?”. Leave it at that but don’t glance his way again. Read a bit of The Signature Of All Things then get going down Cuckoo Avenue with it’s lovely parade of enormous trees.
Ruislip Road East then turn right down Argyle. Cross over and take the path through Pitshanger Park. When the football comes sailing over the fence out of the sports ground to your left take time out of your busy schedule to run across and kick it back. Maybe that good turn was why you came here today? Maybe.
Now it will get even less poor through Perivale, Bury Park and into Pitshanger. Oh wow, Pitshanger is posh. It’s a bit like Hampstead Garden Village but with people, do you remember? OK, there’s an alley opposite the end of Pitshanger then go right down Brentham then wobble through to find Mount Avenue. Head east through another tree covered alley and start eating your pastrami sandwiches in Hanger Hill Park. Eat an apple also. When that gorgeous labrador puppy with the recently operated on front paw insists that he now belongs to you, indulge in that humourous fantasy with his friendly owner who will tell you it was good to meet you. Tell him the same.
Cross traffic infested Hanger Lane and quickly disappear into the woods. Go down Chatsworth Rise, Heathcote and take a photo of Park Royal tube station which you will later be told is typical of District Line architecture. Go down Masons Green Lane, the type of lengthy alley you always adored. Click away, click away. Enjoy the feel of Princes Gardens which is like a Betjeman documentary. Take a photo of West Acton tube then head along Noel Road befoe turning right for a box of Coconut and Pineapple from the newsagent. Get glared at by a motorist for standing in the middle of his access to some dodgy garages because you were taking a photo of what to him must appear to be a dreary industrial lane.
At Acton Main Line cross the road to go down Friary which feels like Thomson Street in Darlington for some reason you can’t identify. Yet again find your way to Western Avenue which has been there in the background all of the day.
Take about 20 photos of the smashed red car which has wrapped itself round a bollard and which has a sticker saying “Police Aware”. Feel guilty about this when you notice the scattered loom bands on the back seat. Just a few yards away click madly away at the abandoned and rotting house with the piles and piles of colourful clothes dumped all about it.
Cross the bridge over the empathy-free dual carriageway and grab that London vista.
Briefly into The Long Drive then right into The Fairway, on down Fitzneal. Just beyond East Acton station get a coffee and a rest and review your photos so far in Lola’s cafe. Listen secretly to the three older women loudly trying to get some sense out of VodaPhone.
Continue up Erconwald and on to Wormwood Scrubs to photo the prison.
Get back through to Du Cane and opposite Hammersmith Hospital cross back over the tube lines using the sinister wire covered footbridge into Bentworth.
Cross that good old Western Avenue yet again and go south down Bloemfontein.
Realise suddenly that there is a football match going on nearby and, even though you don’t really like football very much, be magnetically drawn towards what turns out to be QPR’s ground in South Africa Road. Click away because some of these will be turn out to be great people shots. Notice how compelling the sound of the roaring crowd is and that you never knew that your whole life. Think to yourself “it’s like an orchestra”. Don’t get all soft and start liking football though because you need to head off down Uxbridge Road. Feel utter delight when the Jamaican woman in a smart purple dress simply smiles at you for nothing but friendliness. Smile back, then explore the market by the railway.
At around 4pm trudge wearily across Shepherd’s Bush Common to mingle with the herds of happy clean shoppers flooding in and out of the Westfield by the London Overground station.
I am attempting with these music tracks to explore what I am calling primal vocals.
This may not be a good name for what I am trying to get but this is what I have been calling the results.
What I mean by primal here is singing without words and where there is some emotional content.
I am suggesting that some of the sounds that (for instance) a baby or an animal makes have a primal content which communicates something even though there are no words. I am hoping to make some of these types of sound myself and keep the less ugly examples for use as music.
I would also claim that adult humans who HAVE learned speech also sometimes make primal sounds. Pain, grief, bloodlust, sexual arousal etc etc.
All effective vocal music relies on the primal element. I just want to try to isolate the primal.
My method so far has been to get some chords going in a minimal backing. Then to improvise some non-lexical vocals for about 20 minutes. Then I spend hours and hours editing and auditioning any snippets that I think may be usable.
I do that editing in stages. First I break the long parts down into ‘possibles’ then I mess with those over the backing track until again choosing a shortlist of about 30 or 40 snippets. After messing around with these it quickly becomes obvious which are the 3 or 4 final choices.
This editing bit needs to be intuitive really. I may claim that I am looking for some emotional content in the snippets but it also at the end comes down to the snippets I can’t live without. The ones I like. The ones that I think sound good, because I just do.
Very often these final takes have a melancholy feel and also (possibly importantly) they usually have reached a place where I no longer think it is me singing. I want them, where possible, to also be slightly unusual or experimental sounding.
By that I mean that they could be in some foreign tongue or be an animal’s cry or whatever.
When doing the actual improvised original takes I set the loop going and then without thinking too much or preparing very much I start singing anything at all. And I mean here that I have to let go and let out any sound or noise that comes. This can be difficult and it can be embarassing and during the singing I always think that what is coming out is completely unusable. But amazingly after the editing there is always something in there.
You really do have to make sounds that are awful in order to find accidentally great snippets.
This is totally different to writing a line and then applying learned musical techniques to get the best rendition.
I do have, believe it or not, some proper singing technique (I’m in a choir) but in this ‘primal’ context I need to let things happen automatically. I am full also of bad habits but these can produce some of the happy accidents also.
I am not saying here that good technique is a bad thing I am saying that a combination of automatic elements (both learned and unlearned) may produce some gold amongst all the dust.
The important thing is to let go when improvising and you should know that this is best done with nobody listening. I will never release those unedited takes. In fact they are erased usually.