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IAN BLAKE: Listen...

High Plains, Drifting

(Ian Blake)

This concerns a trip across Salisbury Plain on a bright January night in a valiant but unheated old Renault: an unscheduled stop gave us the chance to view Stonehenge through the banks of snow. Luckily, we had our trusty hot water bottles, and sat back briefly to dream of other times... unreliable, wishful memories of a warm and drowsy summer: Ralph Vaughan Williams dancing, conceptually, with Glenn Miller. (Totally by the way, the Graves family had a slow loris named after RVW in a custom-built grotto at their Majorca home.)

There's a solo for one-holed whistle at the end. That's the one hole at the end of the whistle: it's really a regular tin whistle with all the fingerholes taped up, making a kind of low-budget seljefløyte. After all that sax playing it was good to make a noise without having to move one's fingers around. And at that point, it's probably a relief to get away from that persistent pentatonic thing that the piece is made from. I'll admit to getting a bit obsessive about seeing how I could play with one riff, but it was fun at the time... Someone once insisted to me that the whole value of a piece of music lay in the tune, and everything else was peripheral, so I thought I'd play around with the periphery of a six-note non-tune. The next step in checking our widespread musical profligacy - after all, there's far too much of it about, and The Alpha Rhythm Boys will back me on this - would be to pare those tunes down to one note. Well, it's good enough for U2 with Numb; The One-Note Samba, Johnny One-Note and a heap of Scelsi. Not to mention Bent Bolt & The Nuts' Mechanical Man, which rejoices in its monotony until a devastating semitone shift at the words 'cup of tea' - then back home again. You could also check out Paul Devereux' Stone Age Soundtracks on the joys of 110Hz. And if you like things that go on a bit, have a listen to Gavin Bryars' epic Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet. A magnificent case of keeping-on-ness.


From Spirit of Place - available from
The artwork for 'Spirit of Place' is by Simon von Wolkenstein, and yes, folks, he is related to the composer Oswald von Wolkenstein (1377-1445)